Following a constructive information session in June, six of the country’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) once again came together to hold a ministerial roundtable, allowing the South’s businesses to share their challenges during the current COVID-19 crisis with Paul Scully, the Small Business Minister, as well as hear directly from the Minister on what is being done to incentivise innovation, support start-ups and prioritise the green agenda.

On Tuesday 14th July, the six LEPs, collectively known as ‘Catalyst South’ – comprising the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), Coast to Capital, Solent, Enterprise M3, Hertfordshire and Thames Valley Berkshire LEPs, which collectively produce almost 20% of the UK’s GDP – organised the roundtable discussion with Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, to improve understanding among ministers of the needs of businesses in the South, as well as actions required to help stimulate the economy in the coming months.

The session has already been lauded as a highly productive roundtable, covering key issues for the South and providing an ideal forum for businesses to highlight their strengths, discuss the collective challenges they are currently facing, and ask the Minister directly how Government plans to support start-ups, sustainability and innovation in a post-COVID business landscape.

Representing Hertfordshire were Nitin Dahad, Hertfordshire LEP Board member and SME champion; Dianne Lee, Hertfordshire LEP Board member/DLRC Ltd; Briege Leahy, Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce/Luna Logistics Ltd; David Flanders, Agrimetrics who spoke about how metrics can influence change in the agriculture sector; Glynn Williams, Silixa Ltd; Peter Livesey, Esprit Digital Ltd; Tommie Eaton, BambuuBrush who spoke about how to inspire people to switch to a sustainable product; Andrew Stevenson, Sustainable Pipeline Systems Ltd; and Tanya Curtis, Ryeharvest Ltd.

Small Business Minister Paul Scully said: “We have worked hand in hand with business leaders throughout this crisis to ensure we are delivering a wide-ranging package of support that works for everyone. As we look to rebuild our economy and bounce back from Coronavirus, it is vital we continue to work with networks across the UK like Local Enterprise Partnerships to ensure businesses get the support they need to recover.”

Christian Brodie, Chair of SELEP and of the Catalyst South group of LEPs, spoke to attendees about the strength of the region’s economy, with the roundtable discussion providing an ideal opportunity to showcase innovative businesses in the South and highlight how businesses are quickly adapting to the vastly changed business landscape. Businesses in attendance questioned the Small Business Minister on how Government plans on incentivising innovation at this critical time.

Christian Brodie also spoke about starting up businesses and entrepreneurship in the current climate – an important topic for the region, which has a high number of entrepreneurs and small businesses – noting that people are still looking to start new businesses during this time, in some instances in response to growing demand for key industries, in others due to redundancies and people pursuing new opportunities.

In terms of the roles other businesses can play to create an environment of mutual support, the crucial business support work of the Growth Hubs was highlighted with a representative from Natwest covering how banks and other organisations are supporting the development of peer-to-peer networks alongside the local area Growth Hubs. Businesses also discussed how greater scale-up activity can be stimulated in the area – supporting those businesses with the best potential to grow, how greater diversity can be supported within the start-up community, and how start-ups can access financing options.

Lastly, the session covered the opportunity of ‘green recovery’ – namely, how the current crisis can be regarded as an opportunity to foster change and boost growth of sustainable services, renewable energy and low carbon innovation. Businesses asked the Minister what incentives Government can provide to encourage greener working practices with the aim of reducing carbon footprints.

Christian Brodie, Chair of Catalyst South and South East Local Enterprise Partnership said: “These roundtables mark a new relationship between business and Government with LEPs playing a crucial role in bringing the two together. It is vital for Ministers to hear directly of on-the-ground experiences of businesses and we have had great, constructive discussion where we are being listened to.

“The Catalyst South region has so many businesses who are taking new opportunities; some are fighting to survive and looking to diversify into new areas, and we need to support them to do this in the best, most sustainable way possible.”

Catalyst South have agreed to undertake a series of ‘ideas-labs’ sessions with businesses to look at specific sectors or themes including R&D, trade - import/ export, digital infrastructure and capability, and aviation, hospitality, leisure and culture. These would be smaller sessions where more dialogue can take place and the aim is to position the LEPs as a resource of business views and perspectives which can and should be utilised by government to best effect.