Friday, 18 May 2012

SWLEP looks healthy with funding in place

THE national outlook for the economy may be one of doom and gloom but, for Wiltshire, the future looks a little brighter thanks to the establishment of a new private-public sector partnership across the county.

The Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP) which is tasked with driving economic growth in the area had its inaugural board meeting in February and has already received millions of pounds from central government to help support local businesses.

And according to SWLEP’s chairman, Paul Johnson, while the country is in a double-dip recession, Wiltshire is proving to be one of the more resilient areas in the country.

“Out of 39 LEPs across the country, we are tenth in terms of business resilience,” he said. “Solent is 11th, Dorset is 13th, Gloucestershire is 12th and Oxfordshire is ninth.

“Some of that business resilience comes from the fact 89 per cent of the businesses in our LEP employ fewer than ten people - this means they can be a little more adaptable during a downturn, perhaps by adjusting margins or accepting lower profits for example.

“However, the disadvantage to this is that economic growth is low and we are looking at how we can support these businesses to improve that - this may be through forming clusters where smaller businesses work together, perhaps by becoming part of a supply chain to a larger company or forming a consortium to pick up a part of the export market.”

As part of the Growing Places Fund, SWLEP has received £9.4million to help jump start economic growth projects. Local authorities are submitting applications for funding from the pot and there are opportunities for private developers to do the same. Mr Johnson said: “The funding is there to be placed this year for projects to deliver before 2015.

“They’re effectively revolving loans so the expectation is the growth on the investment will pay back the loan, which we can then use again for another project.

“In deciding who is successful we will be looking at what sort of leverage there will be on the economy and how rapidly it would come back to us - we are talking about loans from around £500,000 upwards.”

SWLEP has also become one of five pilot schemes to be involved in the Rural Growth Network, which will see an input of £4million to develop a facility at Castledown, near Ludgershall, with satellite centres around the county.

These will provide start-up businesses, particularly those set up by military personnel and their spouses, with help, from hot desks to access to high-speed broadband.

SWLEP, which recently welcomed Sir Christopher Benson to its board, is also looking at opportunities to develop the life-sciences sector at Porton Down as well as tourism in the county.

Mr Johnson said: “We are very pleased with the progress we have made in the first few months.

“We have accessed a lot of funds and been successful in several bids and we are currently finalising the business plan, which includes the target of creating 10,000 new jobs in our LEP by 2015.

“I think a clear message that we had was early performing initiatives would encourage the government to put more towards those LEPs so we have been quite keen to catch up the year that it took to form the LEP and show some rapid delivery to schemes and that we have been able to do.” For more details on the Growing Places Fund, which has a deadline for applications of May 31, visit or email