Marches LEP awards £1.1m to help businesses recover from Covid-19 and floods

Two ambitious projects to help Shropshire’s economy recover from the joint impact of coronavirus and February’s devastating floods have been awarded more than £1.1million by the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership.

The LEP – the business-led organisation which drives economic growth across the region – has awarded Shropshire Council £737,000 and Telford & Wrekin Council £404,000 for innovative schemes to help get the economy and region’s market towns back on their feet.

Both councils have worked with the business boards in their area to draw up the plans which they say could safeguard hundreds of jobs.

In Shropshire, the money will be used to launch a package of grants for businesses in the retail, hospitality, leisure, care and business-enabling services, as well as targeted support for the county’s market towns.

In Telford, the award will help fund the launch of new apps to kickstart the local visitor economy and encourage residents to shop and eat locally.

The awards are part of a £1.6million package of funding agreed by the Marches LEP across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin to support businesses hardest hit by the Covid-19 crisis and February's flooding.

Mandy Thorn MBE DL, chair of the Marches LEP, said the partnership was delighted that both packages of support were so innovative in supporting the sectors most in need of help.

“The tourism and visitor economy has been particularly hard hit by the lockdown and floods and large numbers of businesses have suffered as a result through no fault of their own. This sector is so important to both Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin and it is vital we get it back on its feet as quickly as possible.”

The Shropshire package will see £450,000 set aside to fund grants of up to £10,000 for small businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure, care and business-enabling sectors which support businesses with services and products which have not been able to claim small business grants (SBG) or retail, hospitality and leisure grants.

A further £150,000 will fund £5,000 grants to micro-businesses which fall into the same category.

Key market towns will benefit from £117,000 of marketing and promotional support to boost footfall and reinvigorate their economies whilst a further £20,000 will be allocated to four further towns to help their recovery.

Paul Bennett, chair of Shropshire Business Board, said the plan would provide much-needed help to businesses still recovering from the winter floods and who fell through the cracks of the Government’s coronavirus support.

“We know from our own extensive Marches LEP survey that very many businesses did not qualify for any of the Government’s grant support and this is a way of ensuring they receive the help they so desperately need. This is then supplemented by projects to help restore customer confidence as we start to see the reopening of the local economy by ensuring consumers are safe and feel it.”

Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for assets, economic growth and regeneration, said: “We hope that this package will safeguard as many as 195 jobs and help 75 businesses in their recovery from these two devastating events. We will support a dozen market town projects and are targeting a 50 per cent increase in footfall and significant rise in retail and leisure spending.”

In Telford, £174,000 of the award will be targeted at the re-energising of local and regional consumer demand across the borough’s retail, hospitality and leisure sector with a particular focus on five key borough towns/centres, through a programme of digital innovation, marketing and innovative events.

It will include the creation of an app in the form of a loyalty card to encourage residents to ‘shop and eat out local’ and use the borough’s leisure and entertainment facilities. A variation of this app will be developed for the regional day visitor to help kickstart the local visitor economy. Both will be supported by a marketing campaign.

Paul Hinkins, chair of Telford Business Board, said: “This support for our borough towns and centres will play a key part in reviving the economy and helping those businesses which have suffered the most through the opening five months of the year.”

Councillor David Wright, Telford & Wrekin Council cabinet member for economy, housing, transport and infrastructure, said: “Combined, these grant funded packages will directly or indirectly support and help safeguard around 4,400 tourism-related jobs in Telford & Wrekin.

“The £174,000 package will support and help safeguard jobs in around 200 high street businesses across Telford’s borough town high streets as well as the businesses of Telford Town Centre and Southwater.”

The majority of the LEP funding has come from loan repayments from previous job-creating investment projects the partnership has supported.