Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson backs Norfolk MP George Freeman’s rural business bursary

One of the nation's most successful entrepreneurs has lent his support to a Norfolk MP's bursary scheme to inspire young rural entrepreneurs.

Virgin Group mogul Sir Richard Branson attended a parliamentary debate this morning on the merits of promoting self employment among school-leavers.

Afterwards, he met MPs in Westminster Hall including Mid Norfolk's George Freeman, who said he believed the issue was of particular importance to the rural economy.

Mr Freeman said Sir Richard was 'hugely supportive' of the Norfolk Way bursary, which the MP had set up to give targeted work experience for non-academic school-leavers who had shown a passion for business.

'I introduced the Norfolk Way, and the bursary scheme, and he said he had not come across anything like that in a rural area before,' said Mr Freeman.

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'I was delighted that Sir Richard was so supportive of the Norfolk Way bursary, and the importance of the work that we are doing to provide hands-on experience and mentoring for school-leavers.

'He reminded me that he didn't go to university and that he started the Virgin empire with a �300 loan. Now it employs 60,000 people and is worth billions.

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'It might just inspire a few more young people in Norfolk that anything is possible. Virgin of course, are a major employer in Norfolk through Virgin Money and I hope that we may be able to secure their support for rolling out the bursary.'

Not-for-profit social enterprise The Norfolk Way began life in 2007 as part of Mr Freeman's election campaign. It is now run by a non-political board, of which the MP remains a key member. The bursary scheme has given three school-leavers placements with local employers in its pilot year.

Yesterday's debate followed the launch of the Virgin Media Pioneers report named Control Shift: The Rise of the Young Entrepreneur which sets out recommendations on how the government could support budding entrepreneurs.

They include the introduction of a Youth Investment Fund to make loans available on similarly favourable terms as student loans, making the option of starting a business as appealing as studying for a degree.

Mr Freeman said the initiative shared many of the ideals of the Norfolk Way project.

'They are highlighting the perverse situation where a young person can get access to a large grant to study business at university, but not to actually start a business,' he said.

'A vibrant Norfolk needs a vibrant rural economy with lots of small businesses and self employment. We must prepare our youngsters not to expect a job for life, but to instead be enterprising and prepared to be self-employed at some stage in their career.'

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