At first blush, the media and the Government seem like strange bedfellows for the distribution of public funds.
But that is exactly what is happening between this newspaper and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. (BIS).
The Birmingham Post was among 176 successful bidders from rounds one and two of the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) and will be giving match-funded grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to small businesses in Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry.
Working in partnership with a Bournville College, the Birmingham Post will create a board whose members will represent the areas designated and decide where to distribute the taxpayers’ largesse, which is aiming to create 250 jobs through the funding.
So what’s in it for the Post? They feel they are ideally placed as a regional business newspaper to identify those firms which have the best chance of creating work in an area that has one of the worst unemployment areas in the UK.
There also has to be a considerable commitment from the newspaper in terms of dealing with the Government and making advertising space available.
The RGF has been criticised for not getting the money to business quick enough and this is a crucial requirement if companies are to take full advantage. Delay may only plunge a business into even deeper trouble, especially if trading conditions become more difficult.
However, BIS reports that about a third of the 176 successful bidders from rounds one and two of the scheme are progressing with their projects, while legal checks continue.
A further 20 projects, they say, have signed their contracts since the last update (taking the total reaching this stage to 48), including the Birmingham Post scheme.
Let’s also not forget the successful bid fronted up by Birmingham Chamber along with Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Airport for £17.5 million, to complete the funding necessary to up-grade the A45.
This in turn has seen the airport commit to extend its runway with completion due in 2014.
Now the Government has announced an extra £1 billion in the third round of the RGF for businesses seeking support, bringing the total support to £2.4 billion.
It will be available to businesses and public/private partnerships with ambitions to create new jobs and make a significant impact on their local economy. The closing date for businesses to apply is June 13.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claims the RGF is already having a huge impact across the UK. So far there have been over 170 successful bids to the fund, leveraging around £7.5 billion of private sector investment and set to create and protect 330,000 jobs, he says.
He wants to see more businesses coming forward that are confident they can create jobs and get Britain building and making things again – “making sure their hats are in the ring”.
This is an extremely laudable ambition and one that will be welcomed by most businesses. But at the same time, the government must act quickly to cut down the amount of red tape with which businesses are burdened.
And a large amount of that red tape relates directly to employing people so before many companies will commit to taking on more staff there needs to be an act of faith by the government to make life easier for hard-pressed SMEs.
Many of them do not have the luxury of dedicated HR departments to deal with such legislation and completing the paperwork falls on the shoulders of the person who is also trying to run the company, attract new business and ensure the firms is running smoothly and prospers.
In the sort of economic conditions we are experiencing at the moment, some managers and owners may decide that applying for RGF funding will have an adverse effect on their efficiency. That would be a shame.