Lotus must stress wider benefits of �30m loan bid

Norfolk-based car firm Lotus needs to demonstrate how a �30m loan will boost the county's wider hi-tech economy if it is to persuade the team behind the government's regional growth fund to back its ambitious expansion plans.

That was the message delivered to MPs today following a meeting with business secretary Vince Cable.

The firm previously failed to secure cash from the government's regional growth fund which would help safeguard 390 jobs and create more than 1,000 new manufacturing posts.

Today three MPs Richard Bacon, Simon Wright, and George Freeman met Dr Cable to get more feedback on how a revised bid could be more successful.

It is believed that the firm's Malaysian owners are looking to sink around �200m into a 10-year business plan to transform the company from a specialist niche car company into a profitable sports car brand, which would include rolling out an automated production line system.

The Hethel Engineering Centre would also be at the heart of the vision, becoming the firm's centre of applied research.

The regional growth fund was set up to boost private sector growth in areas currently over-dependent on the public sector. It is thought that one of the reasons the original bid was rejected by the team behind the growth fund bids, which is led by former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, was that they questioned why a firm so heavily backed by private finance needed state funds.

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It is also believed the bid needed to do more to stress how the project would boost skills in the wider economy and had contained too little emphasis on how it would help develop new apprenticeships.

Mr Bacon produced Norfolk County Council figures showing that 27pc of jobs in South Norfolk are in the public sector, compared with a national avarage of 19.5pc. He said he was encouraged by how well-informed Dr Cable and his officials were.

'There are a lot of low-paid jobs in south Norfolk and it is misleading to think of it as leafy and affluent,' he said. 'If successful, the company's bid would have direct benefits in terms of jobs safeguarded and also new jobs locally. The bid is also an excellent fit with the government's wider aim of rebalancing the economy away from over-dependence on financial services and towards green tech, smart fuels, high-end engineering and a low carbon economy.

Mr Freeman said: 'It was very reassuring to hear how receptive the secretary of state and the officials were to our message that Lotus's investment at Hethel is particularly significant because of its wider economic potential in driving Norfolk's global in hi-tech manufacturing, clean fuels, and science and engineering.

'Obviously we are in a competitive bidding process and the government will be looking to ensure the maximum impact for the money available, but we will be working with Lotus to help them head that list.

Mr Wright said: 'More work has to be done, but the potential is there.'

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