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More flexibility needed

Thursday 13 December 2012 5:00

Tharsus chief executive, Brian Palmer praises Regional Growth Funding, but here he calls for more flexibility in drawing down fund monies.

I had the opportunity to challenge the The Right Honourable Michael Fallon MPon the need for a flexible approach to drawing down RGF monies at the official opening of our new facility in Blyth in November this year.

Responsible for fostering enterprise, Fallon highlighted the importance of the North East’s strength in design and manufacturing with British expertise and products exported around the world.Having been awarded £690,000 in Round 1 of the RGF, I praisedthe funding the firm received, which leveraged six times worth of private investment for Tharsus.

We needed to be able to demonstrate our capability and capacity to major prospective customers and this funding allowed us to buy our new site before we had sufficient work to occupy it.

Without this facility in place we certainly wouldn’t have succeeded in winning significant long-term contracts with customers such as Safetykleen and Rapiscan.Thanks to these contracts we’re creating jobs for the people of South Northumberland and that’s a clear testament to the fact that funding really can have an impact.

However, what I have found frustratingly evident is that funding timescales don’t reflect the challenges that are created by the faltering economic recovery.  We’re ahead of target on job creation, which I believe was always a key priority for the Regional Growth Fund, but are behind on the capital spend that triggers the payment of our funding monies.

Like everyone, we need to remain prudent with our spending and it must be driven by the requirements of our customer base rather than the need to fit in with funding timetables. It makes far more sense that project extensions are considered for businesses like ours, in order that we avoid the need to start the funding application process again.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Fallon will act on our request, especially considering the stance he outlined on reducing red tape for business that he claims is making him particularly unpopular in Whitehall.

As Government attempt to rebalance the economy and reduce the budget deficit, Mr. Fallon explained that their role in business should be limited to helping ambitious companies to access the finance and develop the skills needed to drive continued growth.

I welcomethe spotlight on skills development – at Tharsus we focus on skillsinnovation,with a view to nurture a new generation of engineers, and reverse the impact of underinvestment in previous years.  I believe it is largely down to industry to develop the skills they need and the shortage of skilled people we see today is in large part due to the failings of industry to train sufficient people in the 90s.

We’ve already had some notable successes, such as our collaboration with local youth unemployment charity,the Blyth Tall Ships Project.  This relationship will provide a rich stream of untapped talent that we can bring onto the shop floor, and at the same time give some young people a second chance at a career.

We also work with local schools such as Bede Academy to educate both children and their parents about the training and careers a modern manufacturing business can offer.By investing in businesses based in secondary towns such as Blyth, the Regional Growth Fund can have a significant knock-on impact.

Southeast Northumberland has taken some knocks in recent years, particularly with the closure of the Alcan plant, but Tharsus has been able to help some of these skilled people back into work.

With a large labour catchment area, I’m confident that we can develop and attract the skills we need to continue our growth.