Jeremy Middleton, founder of Middleton Enterprises

In the latest of a series of articles looking at the areas potentially boosted by the North East devolution deal and strong mayoral leadership, Jeremy Middleton looks at how we might boost connectivity.

If the North East is going to become a more prosperous region, we will need to improve the support we give businesses and help our business base get the funding it needs to start up and grow.

So how do we get better business support? I’m talking about the type that means more people start up, more people survive in business and our businesses make more money, employ more people and pay them more.

Earlier this month, the Government’s Business Population Estimates for 2015 showed a significant fall in the number of private businesses in the North East. Whilst the number of employing businesses actually grew, it was a huge reduction in the number of non-employing businesses that accounted for the overall drop.

As Entrepreneurs’ Forum Chairman Nigel Mills said at the time, this reflects a national trend for those who set up on their own to revert to the comfort blanket of being employed, rather than kicking on to that next stage. Nigel’s assertion, that more must be done to direct such people to support that will enable them to grow and become employers, hits the nail right on the head.

I have often heard it said that there isn't enough help for businesses. Well, I believe that there is. In fact, there are more than 200 business support programmes in the North East and there is lots of money available for companies with good ideas and plans!

The problem is that most businesses don't know what is available, don't know if any of it would be useful to them, and they often don't know how to access any money that they might be eligible for. That's because publicly-endorsed business support is a mess.

We don't need more schemes, we don't need to recreate Business Link or fill any more buildings with well-meaning retired bank managers.

We do need to encourage our businesses and entrepreneurs to be ambitious, to help them find what's out there, and we need to help our business support organisations and our finance providers market themselves to our business community. In other words, the public sector shouldn't try to be a provider - it should be an introducer and promoter of support services that already exist!

So, we need one business support portal, or hub, for North East businesses, which will act as the shop window for all the region’s sources of finance and business support. This won't compete with the private sector or all the other advice sites around, but be a marketing partner for them all. There is an early version put together by the North East LEP, with registration open at http://www.negrowthhub.co.uk.

We need to market the website so everyone knows about it. The best way to do this is to get the private sector to promote it. Perhaps you remember the huge marketing support the Newcastle Capital of Culture bid secured 20 years ago? Well most of that was the private sector getting behind a good idea. We could do the same with this. Let the banks and accountants encourage people to access finance and free advice through it. There are hundreds of ways we can create the most useful portal for businesses in the country.

We need to support mentoring. There are some great programmes like the one run by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, that connect experienced business people with developing companies. In this region, many in the business community are willing to give up some time to advise and to guide. It's a competitive edge and we should support mentoring as much as possible.

We need our local venture capitalists. Our start-ups and small and medium sized businesses need equity - the stuff banks won't do. Traditionally most of this was in London. However, over the last 10 years or so, the North East has benefited from an access to finance initiative, called the JEREMIE programme. This puts public money to work alongside private money. It has created the best source of early stage loans and equity for smaller businesses in the UK. We need to keep this programme going and build on one of the few genuine competitive advantages this region has.

We need to retain this funding for our region. Our finance programmes have been investing in local businesses for many years now. Slowly and surely that money is being returned and our new JEREMIE programmes will also produce a further legacy. By ring-fencing this fund we can create a large permanent revolving fund of money that can continue to help start-ups and early stage companies into the future. Now, it's not the stuff people talk about down the Dog and Duck, but no other region of the country has it. And it is creating businesses and jobs every week and, by ring-fencing it, we will guarantee that advantage for our businesses of the future.

There are plans in place to deliver most of the above. Delivering on them requires single-minded focus from a properly resourced supra body. Right now, that's the North East LEP. It's vital for our economy that, whatever emerges from the devolution debate going on at the moment, this drive towards simple delivery of proven projects continues - and continues to be led by those who know and understand what is at stake - the North East business community.

Jeremy Middleton is founder of Middleton Enterprises, a £50m investment company based on Tyneside. He is also a board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

ENDS

ISSUED ON BEHALF OF MIDDLETON ENTERPRISES

CONTACT: Paul White on 01325 363436

Notes to Editors:

Middleton Enterprises Ltd is a private investment company that has made a substantial contribution to the North East’s economy by investing in and providing business advice to entrepreneurial businesses.

During recent years, it has supported a number of North East businesses, generally from start-up, usually taking a minority stake and offering strategic advice to support growth.

Jeremy Middleton

Mr Middleton is a high-profile entrepreneur and philanthropist based in Newcastle. He started his career as a Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble before working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a Marketing Consultant. He co-founded HomeServe, now a FTSE 250 company which operates in the UK, the USA, France, Spain and Italy, and remains a shareholder with a seat on the Executive Committee. He is a director at North East based energy and water consultancy company Utilitywise PLC.

Mr Middleton and his family are active supporters of Maggie’s Centre and World Vision, an international charity which works to improve the lives of people in developing countries.

Mr Middleton has carried out a range of sponsored fundraising for a variety of charities which to date include the North Pole, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, The Haute Route, Mount McKinley, Mount Elbrus and a cycle ride from London to Paris.

Mr Middleton has been a Board Member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) since 2011 and is Chairman of the North East LEP Investment Fund, which makes recommendations to the LEP Board for the £25m Growing Places Fund and the £30m Infrastructure Fund.

In 2012 Jeremy was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for Services to Politics and Charities.

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Jeremy Middleton, founder of Middleton Enterprises
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