BARRIE GRUNEWALD: Jobs are my priority

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NO apologies for talking about the economy again this week. As I’ve said on several occasions, jobs are the single most important issue in my book.

Once we’ve got a good solid economic base to work from, everything else falls into place.

Last week I spoke about how we would be working more closely with our neighbours in other parts of Merseyside to create the right sort of regional framework to attract government funding.

This week though we’re able to bring things a little closer to home with some really positive news for small and medium sized companies in St Helens.

Today, I’ll be meeting with cabinet colleagues to hopefully approve a new £2 million financial support scheme that will help firms increase sales and boost job numbers.

With many banks taking a tougher line on loans, small and medium sized companies are often unable to expand.

The new scheme will help firms put together the business plans and feasibility studies required by banks and other lenders before any loans are granted.

It will also make grants of up to £10,000 available as well as loans to fund the expansion plans of local businesses.

Yet this is just one part of a three-part good news package for the local economy.

This week we’ve also heard about a new grant programme funded by the Regional Growth Fund and managed by our friends at St Helens Chamber.

The St Helens Jobs and Growth Fund will unlock investment amongst St Helens businesses experiencing difficulties accessing the funding they need to expand.

The third piece of good news - which we hope to bring away from today’s cabinet - is our support for a new £10 million Business Growth Grant scheme covering St Helens, Knowsley, Sefton, Wirral and Halton.

We’ll be overseeing delivery of the scheme within our boundaries to private sector companies. Around £1 million from the scheme will find its way to St Helens companies.

All three schemes form the core of a proactive financial mechanism designed to help businesses of all sizes during the economic downturn. Together they should boost business confidence and encourage local companies to seize the opportunities that are out there.