Agenda item


            The Committee was provided with an update on the new Enterprise Support Service – the regional initiative to support business start-up and growth that would be led by the Council on behalf of the 11 councils. 


            The Committee was reminded that, at the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee in February, it had been agreed that Belfast City Council should lead on the submission of an application to UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) for the 11-council Enterprise Support Service model. It had also been agreed that, subject to additional due diligence and risk management work being undertaken, Belfast City Council should lead on the future development and delivery of the service on behalf of the 11 councils.


            It was reported that, since that time, a significant amount of work had been taking place to finalise the detail of the programme content, start the commissioning process of the new service and set in place the delivery structures so that it could become operational from Autumn 2023.


            The Committee was reminded that the service represented the councils’ collective response to its statutory responsibility – set out as part of Local Government Reform in 2015 – for business start-up, social enterprise and entrepreneurship for specific target groups such as women and young people.  Previously, the majority of the targets associated with the statutory responsibility were delivered through the Go for It programme.  However, over time, the funding available for Go for It had been reduced significantly to the extent that it provided limited support for new start businesses and those target groups.  Councils recognised the need for a more ambitious response so they had commissioned research from the Enterprise Research Centre at Aston Business School which identified a new model and associated targets that could create a much more dynamic business base across the region. 


            The Committee was advised that the enhanced support service would provide a continuum of support from early-stage enterprise awareness through to starting, growing and scaling a business.  The concept was that the service would help people get the right support at the right time – and would also help maximise other available funding streams by helping businesses to navigate the complex support ecosystem. 


            In order to fund the scaled-up intervention, officers had identified the opportunity presented through the new Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF).  This was the UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ (DLUHC) fund that was established as a replacement for EU funding (ERDF and ESF).  One strand of funding focused on “Supporting Local Business”.  The Investment Plan for UKSPF in Northern Ireland was launched in December 2022.  At that time, the Plan proposed that a central component of the Supporting Local Business strand would be the 11 council Enterprise Support Service.  An indicative financial allocation of £17million - £12 million programme delivery and £5million for small grants – was set aside for the service.  It was reported that UKSPF funding was available until March 2025 so the initial programme period would run from Autumn 2023 to March 2025. 


Commissioning of Service Delivery


            Taking account of the marketplace, the procurement approach for delivery of the business support services (that is 121 mentoring support; masterclasses; peer support networks) had been broken down into two main areas, namely:


        Engage and Foundation; and

        Growth and Scaling.


            In addition to the delivery elements, there were a number of support elements that were being commissioned or developed in parallel.  These included:


        Marketing and communications: this work was being led by Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC).  They had completed a procurement exercise for a marketing and communications agency to support with a range of activities including advertising, promotional and brand development.  While DCSDC would lead on these elements of work, they would work directly with the overall Programme Lead and the wider team based in Belfast City Council, ensuring that there was a singular approach to delivery;

        Call handling: the Go for it programme benefitted from a freephone number through which business and entrepreneurs could be directed to the relevant delivery agent.  That support would continue under the new service; however, it would be extended to cover the full scope of the NIESS servicing enquiries from entrepreneurs and new and existing businesses;

        CRM: in order to track all business engagement with the service and also support the development of relevant reports for funders and individual councils, a customer relationship management (CRM) system was being developed.  Belfast City Council’s Digital Services team was taking the lead on this and they would be supported by other council services such as the Information Governance Unit (IGU) and Legal Services in order to ensure compliance with all relevant obligations.  The CRM would also be guided by the council’s finance and grants management teams, ensuring that it could provide adequate assurances and information required, as set out in the funding agreement.


The Committee noted the update on the new Enterprise Support Service, including the planned go-live date for the new intervention.


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