Manufacturers say support systems must be “less bureaucratic” as new funding pot for SMEs is launched

Economic Growth Solutions is delivering the new European-funded Manufacturing Growth Programme for S

Economic Growth Solutions is delivering the new European-funded Manufacturing Growth Programme for SME manufacturers. Pictured are EGS chief executive Lorraine Holmes and operations director Martin Coats. Picture: Economic Growth Solutions. - Credit: Economic Growth Solutions

Manufacturing firms in the region have called for support systems to be less bureaucratic as a new £9.7m funding pot for SMEs in the industry is announced.

The Manufacturing Growth Programme will enable firms to bid for grants of up to £3,500 from the national fund as well as offering access to industry specialists to help with operational issues, research and development, staff training, or expansion projects.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the initiative will run until March 2019.

The programme is designed to fill a void left by the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), which was lost with the abolition of the government's Business Growth Service in 2015.

But smaller firms in Norfolk and Suffolk have expressed concerns about its execution.

Neill Ovenden, managing director at DJB Instruments, a manufacturer of vibration sensors based in Mildenhall, said he hadn't seen the details of the current funding and support initiative, but he said that it would need to be less bureaucratic and more targeted than the old MAS scheme if it was to be of real value to small manufacturing companies.

He said: 'In my experience the value could be limited. I have had experience of working with MAS in the past and it can be frustrating.

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To access the grants you have to jump through so many hoops and fill out so many forms that it gets to the point where you struggle to qualify for 80% of the funding.

'The problem with advisors and so-called experts coming into a business is that they only have a limited time to get to know a business. They tend to give out general business advice which is really just common sense and of limited value to businesses working in specific sectors.'

Richard Bridgeman, chairman of mechanical and electrical component manufacturer Warren Services in Thetford, said the programme's launch showed 'the government is backing manufacturing'.

He said: 'I attended the EEF National Manufacturing Conference in London last week. The mood is a lot brighter – things are still challenging but any extra support we can get is welcome.

'With Brexit there is still a lot of uncertainty but all the many companies I spoke to were being very positive and upbeat.'

He said while at first MAS was well run, the service deteriorated after a change in management.

'You were talking to number crunchers rather than someone who knew your business. We have to find a better way to respond more quickly and less bureaucratically.'

Lorraine Holmes, CEO of Economic Growth Solutions, which is delivering the programme, said the process would be quick and could be tailored to meet individual business' needs.

She added: 'Industry has withstood a lot of economic turmoil and come through the other side, now we're here to help them maximise new opportunities.'

Jamie Thums, chair of New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering and chief operating officer at Lintott Control Systems, said: 'Manufacturing and engineering is a priority sector for New Anglia LEP.

'This level of sector-specific funding and expertise is unique and a key enabler for SMEs to grow and reach their potential.

'In addition, the Manufacturing Growth Programme supports the government's Industrial Strategy through investment in innovation, supporting new and growing businesses and encouraging trade and export.'