Region’s businesses could struggle to qualify for government help

Businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk hoping to tap into a �1.4bn government regional growth fund to create new private sector jobs were left in little doubt yesterday that other parts of the country are likely to be nearer the front of the queue for help.

As expected the government has confirmed the creation of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (Lep) covering Norfolk and Suffolk, along with two others, one for the Black Country, and another for Worcestershire.

One of the roles of the Lep will be to help co-ordinate bids into the government's regional growth fund (RGF), which was set up to redress the balance between areas where there are more public sector jobs than private sector ones and offset the impact of cuts in the public sector.

The new partnerships were announced as the fourth Regional Growth Fund road show, led by Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, deputy chairman of the Independent Advisory Panel for the Fund, took place at the John Innes Centre in Norwich today.

Around 150 delegates from businesses across the region were told that the fundamental purpose of the fund was to redress the balance between public and private sector jobs - sparking questions from the audience that the fund was already tilted in favour of areas such as the North East.

Bids should be of a minimum of �1m, but clusters of firms could pool together and put together joint proposals to try and access the funds.

The first round of bidding for the fund closes on January 21 and all bids will be assessed by an independent panel chaired by former Conservative deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.

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Sir Ian said while the region could 'struggle to qualify' that should not deter businesses and partnerships from applying, but he stressed the test would be the numbers of jobs created and whether businesses could be profitable and self-sustaining. He also said the fund was not about helping to pay for infrastructure projects.

He said advisory board would look beyond arbitrary regional borders and said that help could be available in areas where a lot of public sector jobs could be lost in the wake of government and council cuts.

'The money is there and we want you to apply for it,' he said. 'We want you to come up with imaginative schemes that are going to develop the private sector in this region.

'Areas that have a vibrant private sectors and relatively small public sectors will not I am assuming be looked upon as favourably - that's the criteria that's been laid down.'

Andy Wood, chief executive of Suffolk-based brewer Adnams, who has been overseeing the New Anglia Lep bid, conceded firms could struggle to secure cash from the fund, but he believed that compelling cases for help could still be made in key areas such as developing reneweable energy.

'We haven't heard anything we didn't expect to hear,' Mr Wood said. 'We find in Norfolk and Suffolk that the playing field is tipped against us because we don't have that reliance on public sector jobs that other parts of the country have, but we are not without our challenges.'

Meanwhile, backers of the New Anglia Lep welcomed the government's decision to support the proposal.

Mr Wood said: 'This is great news not only for the LEP proposal but for everyone in Suffolk and Norfolk. It is a green light to continue working together and to face head on the challenges of bringing the economic aspirations of the two counties together.

'We will now move forward, continue the momentum we have and ensure we build together for the future economic success of New Anglia.'

Peter Barry, managing director of Great-Yarmouth based Pasta Foods, said the proposal built on the combined strengths of the two areas, to create a partnership that will unlock the enormous economic potential of New Anglia, creating thousands of private sector jobs.

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council said: 'Norfolk and Suffolk have many common strengths and challenges. The need for effective broadband coverage, up-skilling the workforce, off shore energy and tourism offer the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership a common set of objectives, which will unlock and enhance its economic potential.'

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: 'I very much welcome the confirmation from government that this business led, forward thinking proposal can become a reality. It is an exciting time for both Suffolk and Norfolk and the New Anglia LEP will have a fundamental role in the future prosperity of our economy. We will ensure the momentum we have now continues.'

Robin Twigge, East Anglia regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said: 'We are delighted with the news and to be involved and representing over 6000 FSB members. So often the small businesses are missed out on consultations, whilst making up over 55pc of the New Anglia Region. Now we are having a direct and influential input into the Economic Partnership in particular with relevance to the rural areas, again making up 80pc of the business community.'

Following the green light, New Anglia is now asking the 1.5 million people and 60,000 industries in the region to take three small steps to let them know what the priorities should be for the new business led body.

The new portal, which can be found at www.newanglia.co.uk allows visitors to register and leave their views on the priorities of starting up a new business, promoting innovation and skills for the future along with a number of other key issues for New Anglia.