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Western Europe / UK

Covid support schemes on offer for investors in the UK

The UK's IPAs have adopted differing strategies for assisting businesses throughout the pandemic. Here's what help is available around the country.

UK-IPAs-Covid
As UK businesses have closed due to Covid-19-related lockdowns, IPAs have stepped up their game. (Photo by Tolga Akmen//AFP via Getty Images)

As a second wave of Covid-19 hits the UK, most of the country’s investment promotion agencies (IPAs) have come up with solutions to support investors and local businesses through worrying times.

Investment Monitor recently launched its interactive IPAs map series, a directory aimed at assisting multinational enterprises interested in making a connection with IPAs in potential foreign direct investment destinations.

So far covering the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia, the tool highlights, among other things, which IPAs offer some form of Covid-19 support to potential investors as well as to existing businesses.

The extent to which such support is offered varies from region to region, with the UK leading with 77% of IPAs, followed by Ireland with nearly 36%, and Scandinavia with 17% across the whole region.

While most of the listed IPAs offer access to business support at government level, many have set up other forms of support, including helplines and webinars, with some conducting surveys with local business owners to assess the impact of the pandemic and potentially come up with tailored solutions.

Of the three regions covered by our interactive maps, the UK is the region with the most extensive Covid support programmes.

UK IPAs ramp up Covid support networks

At national level, the UK government recently announced new insolvency measures to help companies stay in business. These measures are designed to help businesses that are unable to meet debts due to the lockdowns avoid filing for bankruptcy, with options such as rescue or restructure among those explored.

As it announced a second national lockdown from 5 November to 2 December, the UK government also extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, clarifying that employers can claim for 80% of furloughed employees’ usual monthly wage costs, of up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contribution on these earnings.

The government has also launched a Gov.UK Coronavirus Information service on WhatsApp to provide business owners with information and advice.

Most UK-based IPAs (64 out of 83) have created a Covid support page on their websites where they provide links to or a summary of the government support that is available at a national level.

Many have set up helplines for struggling business owners and potential investors, and have organised webinars to discuss how best to tackle the pandemic’s impact on their trade.

That is the case, for instance, with Business Doncaster; Greater Lincolnshire; Invest in Middlesbrough; and Invest Portsmouth.

Cheshire and Warrington; Coventry and Warwickshire; Gloucestershire’s GFirst LEP; and Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire LEP are all conducting Covid-19 business impact surveys across their regions.

While Cornwall and the Isle of Scilly has decided to focus on how digitisation can provide a way out of the crisis for businesses, others, such as Greater Manchester LEP, have established strong support networks like Build Back Better, a movement of people and organisations “who want to explore the opportunity to take stock, rethink and set a new course”.

In a similar approach, Hertfordshire LEP offers guidance on diversifying business for those who want or have to diversify during the pandemic.

Cumbria IPA sets an example in the UK

Among the UK’s IPAs, Cumbria LEP stands out for the extent of its offering and the accessibility to it through its website.

The north-west England IPA collated government, national and local resources and guidance to help Cumbria’s employees, employers and businesses feel supported to mitigate the impacts of the outbreak.

It has also set up a sector-specific support page and Cumbria’s Business and Economic Response and Recovery Group (BERRG), chaired by Jo Lappin, is in direct contact with the UK government.

“These are clearly unprecedented times and BERRG is focused on the economic aspects of the Local Resilience Forum’s overall strategic aim, which is to protect life; to minimise the impact of the outbreak on health, society and the economy; and to maintain public trust and confidence,” says Lappin.

“It is clear already that a number of our businesses are being seriously affected and we need to do everything we can to ensure that they access all of the support currently available to them and to also identify what extra support is needed.”

Cumbria LEP also offers a business support and advice programme, peer networks, and targeted workshops and masterclasses – one of which covers Brexit.

London looks to continue doing business

The UK capital has also been making impressive efforts to keep on attracting investment and supporting existing businesses amid the Covid-19 crisis.

London & Partners, for example, has hosted a series of virtual seminars and events to offer advice on how to manage this period and is also now offering Brexit readiness support.

Its international team has continued to run virtual events to unlock the UK capital for particular sectors such as fintech, life sciences, creative industries and AI.

It has also created Alliance, a network of more than 600 London businesses, to launch the city-wide, industry-backed campaign ‘Because I’m a Londoner’ to build consumer confidence and encourage consumer spending to support London’s hospitality, retail and cultural sectors.

“Since March, we have been working hard to ensure that London’s global brand and our business communities are resilient during this challenging time,” says London & Partners CEO Laura Citron.

“We have supported more than 60 companies to set up in the UK capital since March, which is a vote of confidence in London and testament to our city’s position as a global hub for international business.”

Edinburgh takes a holistic approach

However, the lack of a specific Covid support section on the website does not necessarily mean that nothing is happening on the ground.

Elin Williamson and Kyle Drummond, respectively business growth and inclusion senior manager and economic development officer at Invest Edinburgh, explain how the Council of Edinburgh prefers to offer bespoke support to both existing businesses and potential new investors.

“We have decided to take a holistic approach,” says Williamson. “If an investor contacts us, we will deal with them on a bespoke basis rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. We have realised that, especially given the volatility of this pandemic evolution, a one-size-fits-all approach does not really work.”

Both managers agree that hospitality has taken the biggest hit in Edinburgh, especially given the prominence of events like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in summer and the Christmas festivals in winter.

However, Drummond, who works on incoming investment, says that during the course of the pandemic Invest Edinburgh has worked with a handful of businesses in the IT and property redevelopment sector to view properties for new investments.

Whether in a structured manner, through their website or on a bespoke basis, UK-based IPAs are on hand to assist both existing and potential businesses throughout the global pandemic.