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Cumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and grow

Cumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and grow Paul Foster, Head of Programmes at CLEP

Cumbria LEP is in the process of awarding and making grant payments totalling close to £1m to Cumbrian businesses as part of our drive to get our county’s economy motoring in 2024.

The LEP has been requested to support our two unitary authorities Westmorland Council and Cumberland Council as they look to gain maximum value from their Government-allocated UK Shared Prosperity Fund monies, which have been introduced to replace funding which ceased upon the UK leaving the European Union.

In November of 2023 the LEP launched two new programmes of support intended to get businesses, in Westmorland & Furness specifically, investing and growing: A capital scheme entitled Investing in Growth and a revenue-based scheme entitled Catalysing Growth.

Both schemes generated significant levels of interest, with capital grants available at up to £20k per business and revenue grants at up to £7500 per business, and while not all enquiries resulted in full applications, the levels of interest were such that even with the tight timescales the amounts available for businesses could have been significantly exceeded if all projects had been funded.

In Cumberland, at the time of writing, we are now receiving applications from businesses which have been selected as being eligible for funding from the Rural England Prosperity Fund. This programme will see investments of up to £20,000 made into businesses in rural areas of Cumberland where there is opportunity to facilitate business growth or diversification through investment in premises or in new equipment or machinery.

Cumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and growCumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and growCumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and growCumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and grow

Again levels of interest are significant and the available pot would quite easily be exceeded if all applications were to be funded.

To ensure that applications are assessed fairly and impartially the LEP has appointed external economists to score each against a set of criteria. This ensures that the money can be allocated to the businesses with projects which can deliver in 2024 and enable that business to take steps forward, adding to economic output as a result.

Therein lies the key to a strong application and the basis for ensuring that a business can access some grant support. Requests for funding need to be linked to a clearly defined project within the parameters of the respective schemes.

Unfortunately the LEP is not in a position to offer unlimited financial support to our business community, the funds made available simply wont allow for this. This in turn means that decisions have to be made on projects which have the potential to generate significant returns for our regional economy, it is a competitive process to ensure that public money is spent where it will generate the best return.

The first thing to stress is that we have been looking to fund projects which may have stalled for one reason or another, but where the grant can help to enable that growth opportunity to be grasped with both hands.

The aforementioned funds all require the business to input at least 50% of the project costs, and be able to afford to do that in the near future.

Our independent economists are looking for evidence that projects are realistic, affordable for the business, and can deliver in the short term as the window for funding is quite tight.

For these reasons some businesses have opted against applying to the funds, which is perfectly reasonable. Certainly for the Rural England Prosperity Fund (where there is also a new programme in Westmorland & Furness being delivered through Cumbria Chamber of Commerce) we expect announcements later this year on a new round of funding.

It is hoped that businesses for which the timescales simply didn’t work on the current grants which the LEP is administering will be able to get their projects to a position where they can be funded when the next round of funding does become available.

It has been encouraging to see that amidst the macroeconomic conditions, with concerns around recession, inflation which is falling but still relatively high and interest rates which also remain relatively high, there are businesses with ambition and drive to improve productivity, grow, and create wealth in our county.

Cumbria LEP is delighted to be able to play a part in helping our businesses to bring these investment plans forward, through the provision of small amounts of grant funding which cumulatively can have a significant impact on our collective economic output.

Thought Piece: Cumbria LEP enabling £1m in grants to help businesses invest and grow

We are also delighted that we are about to launch a new programme, funded through Westmorland & Furness Council to help businesses with specialist advice and support. Details on this will follow shortly but we anticipate supporting around 450 people in the Westmorland & Furness area to develop ideas around starting a new business; we will be boosting innovation-hungry businesses with a new £290k support programme to help them develop their ideas; we will offer support to businesses wishing to specifically explore supply chain opportunities; as well as delivering an extension to our existing advice and support sessions for all businesses across the area under our Cumbria Accelerator programme.

Exciting times lie ahead and we hope that our business community across Cumbria can have a progressive and positive 2024.

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