Growth fund cash to aid SME sector

BUSINESS leaders in Suffolk and Essex yesterday welcomed a move by the Government to make �95million of Regional Growth Fund money available to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) struggling to secure bank finance.

Ministers hope the scheme will unlock around �500million of new investment in the SME sector, creating at least 4,000 jobs around the country, but there was concern about how much of the Government cash would find its way into the eastern region.

Prime Minister David Cameron told a business conference in London that the new grants from the Regional Growth Fund would be administered by RBS and HSBC in a deal brokered by former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.

Mr Cameron hailed the development as a “huge step forward” in the drive to create jobs and boost business investment.

The announcement was welcomed by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Dugmore, who was in London yesterday as part of a Chambers International Trade Group delegation and was in the audience as the Prime Minister made the announcement.

“Small and medium sized businesses are the engine room of the Suffolk and UK economy,” he said. “They are working incredibly hard during these tough economic times and the �95 million if distributed wisely by the Government could make a big difference.”

However, Iain Wicks, Essex chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, was more cautious.

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“It is good news that some of the money from the Regional Growth Fund is now available to small firms, but we are disappointed that it looks like it will not be available to all businesses that need finance to grow,” he said.

“It is clear that grants will only be available to businesses that qualify for bank finance, but we still need greater clarity around the terms and conditions attached to the funding, the forms of business activity that are eligible for the grant and accompanying loan, and a clear indication of where in the UK this scheme will be available.”