BER21: ‘We’re all in this together’ – Business support during Covid-19

Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP)

This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 2 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021, on Industry and Innovation: Pathways to Prosperity

Click here to read the Review.

‘We’re all in this together’ often feels like a trite phrase (in fact see Withnails’ response to his friend and fellow out of work actor in the classic film and you will get a sense that even when you are in things together it doesn’t always help to know others are struggling too). And while it’s the case that some sectors have been hit harder than others by the economic and personal crises that Covid has brought to our regional, national and global economies, nearly all have been impacted one way or another.

Moreover Covid-19 continues to reveal new weaknesses and impacts that we had not previously expected or planned for; from the shortage of steel and HGV drivers to the ethical and divisive issues of ‘Covid Passports’. Who foresaw the ‘pingdemic’? At the same time these challenges are intermingled with the implications of the new trading relationship with the EU which for some sectors and business is starting to feel like more than just teething problems.

Given all of this, it is encouraging to be able to report that our businesses have shown incredible resilience over the last year. Although some sectors such as hospitality and creative industries were virtually mothballed during the national lockdowns, life sciences and medical technology flourished to support the national response to the global pandemic.

Founded on the strength of our partnership between business, local government and HE/FE partners, GBSLEP and our Growth Hub have always been uniquely placed to gather intelligence on the real time challenges that our businesses face, particularly small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).

Never has this been more important than when Covid hit last year. We quickly swung into action, repurposing £3 million of our revenue funding to create our Step Forward programme. We devised and delivered a range of packages to help reduce business failure through digital training, and crucially, we assisted businesses to pivot activity to protect jobs and access new market opportunities.

Our match-funding Pivot and Prosper Grant enabled 108 new jobs to be created and hundreds more to be safeguarded which in turn resulted in a projected GVA uplift of over £24 million. We assembled a regional taskforce made up of public, private and academic leaders and we listened to the needs of our businesses.

As we look to recovery, we must continue to support our businesses in this targeted, and evidence-led way. All our delivery work is underpinned by policy making and strategy and informed by our multiple relationships and listening to our partners. We take the lead on five priority sectors for the West Midlands; BPFS (Business, Professional and Financial Services), creative industries, data driven health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing – food and drink, low carbon and energy technology . We also have cross cutting commitments to business support, access to finance, digital innovation, skills, placemaking and young people.

Central to business support is our Growth Hub which helps firms at all stages of their journey with a broad range of services. We offer expert one-to-one and peer-to-peer business support, events, specialist programmes, funding and much more. We have recently set up an Access to Finance portal to help business get in touch with right advisors and relevant finance providers – a critical offering as many re-emerge from a torrid year.

Throughout the pandemic we have delivered national and government schemes such as SME Restart Grants and Peer to Peer networking. This work continues today as we deliver the Government’s Help to Grow programme with modules focused on business leadership and digital skills. There is also the Made Smarter project which will target 1000 manufacturing SMEs across the region with intensive support to streamline process and adopt new technologies. This is being done in collaboration with all six Midlands Growth Hubs and backed by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).  By working in partnership with our fellow LEP’s and the WMCA we have designed a modern, customer focused business support offer which will allow to take things to the next level.

The recovery needs a workforce that is adequately trained and this is why we set up the GBSLEP Skills and Apprenticeship Hub in December 2020.  Through the hub we are bringing businesses together with training providers. This partnership model is creating a sustainable pipeline to employment and training for people of all ages. Our business support can only be successful if it is business led and that is what we do.

Thanks to our unique triple helix structure of bringing partners in businesses, local government and academics together we commission investment decisions in an informed way, from capital programmes right through to business support. I am a great believer in working together to ensure our businesses are supported in a way that genuinely adds value. So, as we collectively recover, we must continue to work in partnership to drive forwards inclusive and sustainable economic growth in our region.  

Ed Watson
Interim Chief Executive
Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP)