Growth fund favours the big players

First published in Talking Business The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

TODAY is the deadline for bids to the regional growth fund (RGF).

A share of £1bn is up for grabs for anyone who can convince a panel led by Tory grandee Lord Heseltine that their plan will create jobs before Britons go to the polls in 2015.

This region has scored some notable wins from the first two rounds of the fund. The Tees Valley alone has been awarded £68m.

But in the rush to deliver some short term wins the RGF has made several mistakes.

It has been painfully slow to pay out cash due to its protracted due diligence phase.

The scheme has been massively oversubscribed, meaning that it has created far more losers than winners. And too often the RGF has played safe by handing out cash to big players like Nissan and SSI while ignoring innovative schemes from smaller organisations.

I have spoken to bidders who have spent weeks putting together detailed plans that would have created jobs only to see their application rejected.

Middlesbrough-based Digital City's bold bid to create 300 jobs by 2014 failed to win funding last summer.

Furthermore, applicants must be seeking at least £1m and prove they have additional financial backing which means that small and medium-sized businesses are largely excluded from bidding direct.

However, this time round the panel is encouraging small firms to submit combined applications, known as programme bids. This region has submitted several.

In March David Cameron said he would "Back small firms. Boost enterprise. Be on the side of everyone in this country who wants to create jobs, and wealth and opportunity." We will find out in autumn when the RGF winners are announced if he is true to his word.

One of the most useless items I ever bought was a wine rack.

Building up a nice collection of full-bodied reds seemed at the time like a nice - if decidedly middle-aged - thing to do.

Who was I kidding? Any bottle I bought was usually empty 24 hours later.

If one survived in the house for more than a week it could be considered a vintage item.

So, I was surprised to read a new Barclays report that showed more people in the North-East own wine collections than any other UK region.

Hoarding high quality booze - as well as other treasure assets - which include items such as jewellery, fine art, classic automobiles and precious metals is part of an increasing trend as people lose trust in banks and currency.

The report also revealed that this region is home to the highest proportion of stamp collectors in the UK. I collected stamps when I was a kid. Unlike my wine I managed to hang onto a few albums.

Sadly, the last time I checked the entire collection was worth about the price of a bog standard bottle of Shiraz.

Scores of press releases drop into the echobusiness email inbox every day.

The better ones contain potential new stories. Others struggle to grab your attention.

Here is the opening line from a real beauty that we received last week. "The ability to be able to drill first wheats into post-vining pea ground that has had no more than a deep-loosening pass has proved to be one of the unexpected benefits of a new five-leg subsoiler recently added to a North East farm's machinery fleet." If you know what that means please send me an email.

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