The impact of European funded (ERDF) business support programmes on small firms within the Liverpool city-region

Since 2010, ULMS has conducted a series of successful business support programmes funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) matched by UK domestic funding. Originally, led by Prof Ossie Jones, over 100 owner-managers of small firms based in the Liverpool City Region participated in the initial ‘LEAD’ programme, helping businesses to increase turnover and safeguard jobs. The Growth Catalyst (GC) is the successor ERDF business support programme and a further 129 firms and 144 participants in six cohorts completed the GC programme between 2014 and 2108. A further four cohorts are planned with additional ERDF funding of over £1M until 2021.

Background

Skills, employment and enterprise in the Liverpool City Region (LCR) had been identified as being among the lowest in the UK and the development of enterprise capabilities through education and skills is seen as a key driver for the efficiency, especially of smaller and owner-led firms. Given the importance of high growth smaller businesses to the development of the UK economy and the need to develop leadership and management skills, this programme is delivered to support “high growth” businesses within the LCR. It has been designed to use leadership as stimulus for growth, job creation and improved productivity in the city-region.

Research

Economic and Social and Research Council (ESRC) funded research by Prof Jones and Dr Macpherson on entrepreneurship and learning in small firms examined the nature of knowledge creation and learning in a range of Northwest Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Additional research was carried out in ULMS by Dr Macpherson and Prof Jones stressed the importance of a number of elements associated with effective learning in small firms. Moreover, Prof Anderson’s research specifically focusses on the nature of action-learning in SMEs, identifying key drivers for learning in smaller firms. Finally, Dr Giordano’s research focuses upon the policy and governance mechanisms involved in the implementation of ERDF programmes in peripheral regions of the UK and elsewhere in the EU. In particular, his research explores the role and importance of effective ERDF multi-level governance mechanisms to develop durable and sustainable partnerships with stakeholders and beneficiaries. These insights have helped to shape the governance arrangements and inform the effective delivery and management of the GC programme.

Impact

LEAD started in May 2010, under the leadership of Professor Ossie Jones, leading to significant improvement in the financial performance of the small firms involved. On average, turnover had increased by 20% which equates to £350,000 per firm and a total of £12 million for these 34 businesses. The more recent Growth Catalyst programme provides an eight-month training suite and 129 businesses and 144 participants completed it between 2014 and 2018. Both ERDF supported programmes have contributed to increased knowledge sharing and networking between small firms in the Liverpool city-region, which has led to increased cooperation, turnover and growth. Both programmes have also increased resilience within the small firm sector, contributing to improved socio-economic performance of the Liverpool city-region. 

Ongoing Research 

Data are currently being collected on the impact that the two programmes have had on the growth of participating firms as well as on the ways in which participants developed durable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and support mechanisms to help their performance. In addition, to quantify the increased networking between small firms involved in the various programme cohorts and the effect that this has had, tangibly, on the owner-managers’ performance and their respective firms.  A further four Growth Catalyst cohorts are planned with further ERDF funding until 2021.