Professor Mary Stuart gives her thoughts on business support services through Covid-19 and beyond.

Professor Mary Stuart, Chair of the Business Lincolnshire Governance Board and Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln, gives her thoughts on Greater Lincolnshire business advisory and support services through Covid-19 and beyond.

The Business Lincolnshire Growth Hub was established to support Greater Lincolnshire based businesses to start up and to grow, offering fully funded impartial advice.  It is widely established as the single place to head to access business experts and mentors, support and guidance, and grants and finance.  It is available to any business looking to survive the impacts of the pandemic, or to grow and become more competitive, and is an integral part of the LEP family. 

We are extremely proud of our success stories and unrivalled reputation in this area where we are known for smashing targets and delivering high customer satisfaction. More recently we have received wide praise for implementing an early response to support our businesses through the early economic shock of the Covid-19 crisis and planning recovery, by redirected funding, and for the professional quality of redeployed staff who were able to focus quickly on the greatest and the most immediate needs of our businesses.

Our team of experts provides specialist advice on accessing finance, resource efficiency, supply chain development, digital, innovation and exporting guidance and direct access to specialist support in our priority sectors, as well as national programmes.

In response to the pandemic some changes have been made to existing funds, and additional programmes have been established, but Business Lincolnshire's core purpose remains constant: namely, to deliver a comprehensive Business Lincolnshire Growth Hub for the business community of Greater Lincolnshire to include North, North East Lincolnshire, and more recently Rutland; and to increase the profile and reach of the Growth Hub to help as many businesses as possible to survive, prosper and grow.

Despite the challenges, the Business Lincolnshire Growth Hub has continued to provide an essential service to businesses. This includes crisis support, navigation through new government interventions and direct input back into government to shape intelligent responses quickly and efficiently, focused on what our businesses told us they needed most.

Our enquiry levels from 1st April to 30th September 2020 almost tripled against the same period last year, and individuals accessing the Business Lincolnshire website increased by over 400% to over 42,000 comparatively. 

In the first six months of the pandemic the Greater Lincolnshire Business & Economy Working Group* co-ordinated by Business Lincolnshire provided emergency funding and support to businesses including:

  • 19,499 grants to businesses of nearly £227m via the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund
  • awarded grants totalling £9.68m through the Discretionary Grant Fund to 1,067 businesses
  • reached 42,299 users through
  • attracted 601 businesses to enrol onto the Business Lincolnshire Growth Hub programme with 1165 enrolled onto our support programme
  • allocated £730,000 of Kickstart grants to businesses within 24 hours
  • allocated £8m in grant funding to fund post-16 education providers to invest in modern facilities
  • secured £25.8m of government funding to invest in growth through the Getting Building fund.

Growth Hub event activity switched to a virtual model and we are not expecting to deliver any face-to-face events before the end of March 2021. However, a varied programme of virtual events has already been delivered with topics including Financial Advice for Growth and Recovery, Covid-Secure Workforce, Marketing Post-Covid, Managing through a Crisis, and Innovative Sales Channels.  We have delivered a very successful Survive and Thrive campaign which included advice for businesses as they prepared to reopen, digital marketing guidance to help businesses reach their customers in new ways, tips for encouraging innovation, and leadership advice for managers during this period of uncertainty.

Work is now strongly focused on recovery and we are taking a lead role and working nationally with government, regionally with the Midlands Engine, and locally with partners in shaping and delivering business-influenced and business-led interventions for recovery. New benefits include sector specialists recruited to support the visitor economy sector, a manufacturing transformation programme, extensions to our Business Resilience Programmes for a further 12 months, a Supply Chain Risk Management programme, and extended Growth Hub Adviser provision for our warmly welcomed new Rutland colleagues.

The Government has also announced a number of additional funds for Growth Hubs which will be used to provide further advisory and grant funding support in response to Covid-19. Click here to find out more about the programmes and funds available alongside a wealth of information including Covid-19 Advice and Resources; Success Stories; Business Resilience and a comprehensive section dedicated to EU transition. 

Business Lincolnshire is THE place for all business support needs. Register here to receive the news and guidance and follow and tag us on Twitter @BusinessLincs to expand and share the network.

* The Business & Economy Working Group consists of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, Business Lincolnshire / Greater Lincolnshire local authorities, the University of Lincoln, the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI, the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, BEIS and the DWP.