Support scheme aims to help small firms weather recession

AN AMBITIOUS project to help vital small-scale businesses weather the economic storm is to be piloted in North Yorkshire before being rolled out across the region.

The new business support scheme across Selby, Craven and Harrogate – where figures show thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners are the bedrock of the economy – has been hailed as a vital lifeline in all three areas.

If successful, the four-month project, which could be launched as early as June and will be funded by the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Programme (RIEP), could be implemented across North Yorkshire and the Leeds City Region.

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The three districts have been chosen as they have recently completed a study which shows small start-up companies are in need of more support.

The president of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Simon Cotton, said: “Harrogate has a very high number of these type of businesses and there is great potential here.

“We are absolutely excited about this project and it is great news for the area.

“This support will be very gratefully received by the business community. Everybody has suffered from a downturn in business over the past few years. Finance and credit issues have been a big problem for companies.”

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Mr Cotton added: “Whom to turn to in times of trouble is more difficult for smaller businesses with less employees.

“We are delighted we will be getting this support and will be urging the council to take up this opportunity.”

Official figures have revealed that there are 9,000 business across the Harrogate area which are responsible for about 87,000 jobs – although the vast majority employ fewer than 10 people.

There is a high level of self-employment across the area of about 15 per cent of all jobs.

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Despite grave fears that the recession could bite deep into the core of the Harrogate district’s economy, experts say it is weathering the storm better than other areas.

The leader of Selby District Council, Coun Mark Crane, said Selby had also survived the worst of the recession, but welcomed the new scheme.

“I am delighted that Selby has been chosen for this alongside the other two districts”, he said.

“There is a need for more smaller start-up businesses all over the country and more assistance to help small businesses set up and keep going in Selby is to be warmly welcomed.

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“During the recession we have been lucky that some businesses have relocated here and we have had some very successful high-growth companies start up.

“I’m hoping Selby continues to buck the national trend and initiatives like this can only help.”

A report on the pilot project is to go before Harrogate Council’s Cabinet member for planning, transport and economic development, Coun Jim Clark, next week.

Kathryn Daly, economic development manager at the council who compiled the report, said: “The opportunity presented by this RIEP funding is a short-term one that would allow delivery of a pilot business support programme to high-growth businesses in the Harrogate, Craven and Selby districts over the next three months.

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“If the opportunity to secure this funding is missed then local businesses will miss out.

“It is unlikely that any other funding will be available for this purpose in the foreseeable future.”

Harrogate Council could not confirm how much funding was available through the scheme, but said it came from money which had not been spent from the Regional Improvement and Efficiency Programme.

The programme was established in April 2008 with a three-year funding package of £185m from the Department of Communities and Local Government to help improve efficiency and support councils across Britain.