A fragmented approach to helping small businesses is holding back growth of the regional economy, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) is urged to make the delivery of an online portal which brings together business support - called a Growth Hub - an “absolute priority” as, the FSB says, scores of small businesses have the potential to expand.
Ted Salmon, North East Regional chairman of the FSB, said small firms - which account for 99% of businesses - are missing out when better support could play a role in rebalancing the economy outside of the dominant South East.
He also called for both LEPs in the region - including Tees Valley Unlimited - to avoid doubling up on business support services and to frequently review whether or not schemes are actually working.
“This report highlights the great potential of LEPs to energise small firms in England – but only if the right steps are taken to improve the design and delivery of business support,” he said.
“This could be achieved by cutting duplication, better co-ordination of support at the local level, and robustly evaluating schemes on their effectiveness. The FSB therefore calls for LEPs to work with newly formed ‘Growth Hubs’, and make improvements to local business support an absolute priority.
“Ninety nine per cent of all UK firms are small businesses, so growing those firms through better business support can make a real difference to the North East economy, helping in the rebalancing of growth outside London and the South East. Growth currently compares well with other G7 countries, but the economy lags noticeably in key areas such as our exporting performance and labour productivity.
“There is no ‘magic bullet’ solution that will work across the country, because every locality including the North East has unique needs that individual LEPs must satisfy. But a long-term approach based on proper evaluation of initiatives, co-ordinating plans nationally and focusing on fewer, more targeted initiatives will all work to raise business performance.”
A North East LEP spokesperson said the Growth Hub for the region will be in place by the spring.
He said: “Ease of access to business support is a pillar of the North East Strategic Economic Plan.
“We have been working with the FSB and other partners to develop a digital Growth Hub which is due to go live online for businesses to use in spring.
“It streamlines and simplifies the host of business support and access to finance schemes locally and nationally, to make it easier for companies to quickly get to the help they need.
“It also gives the opportunity for businesses to build up relationships with other firms and for peer to peer mentoring and collaboration to further strengthen the Growth Hub’s offer.”