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STAFFORDSHIRE COUNCIL: More than £850,000 invested in new scheme

STAFFORDSHIRE COUNCIL: More than £850,000 invested in new scheme

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More than £850,000 is being invested by Staffordshire County Council in new schemes to help small businesses and the next generation of workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Up to 500 new apprenticeships are set to be funded and firms will be given financial assistance to help their existing staff boost their skills.

Staffordshire County Council has announced the programmes in addition to support already offered to local businesses in recent months. It plans to work with the county’s eight borough and district councils to deliver the latest schemes after they received funding from the Government, through the Additional Restrictions Grant, to assist small businesses affected by the pandemic.

The latest business support measures were welcomed by the county council’s cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday.

Councillor Philip White, cabinet member for economy and skills, said: “We’re trying to find things that other people aren’t doing – for example there are many helpful schemes administered by central Government and there are other initiatives that are being taken by other local authorities and organisations. What we’re endeavouring to do is try and fill those gaps.

“The first of those is a project to fund up to 500 new apprenticeships for Staffordshire for 16-24 year-olds who have been affected by the pandemic and find themselves out of work at the moment.  This is an area that is of particular concern around the country; it has been difficult, particularly for smaller businesses, to get apprentices into their organisations during the pandemic.

“This scheme will provide help, both in terms of salary and funding training. The Staffordshire County Council element of it will be a half a million pound contribution, which will support a wage contribution of £5,000 per apprentice for 100 apprentices.

“Each of our districts may contribute up to 50 apprentices for their area. The support there, if all the eight districts come together, will run into the millions and will also be able to benefit from top ups from central Government of £3,000 per apprentice. It’s a really significant package for any small business that would like to take on apprentices but is struggling with funding for that at the moment.”

Businesses looking to train or upskill their workers can seek support from the Nil Cost Training for Employers Top Up Project, which will provide grants of up to £5,000 matched through other funding sources. The authority is contributing £104,000 towards this scheme, which is set to assist up to 400 Staffordshire businesses over the next 15 months.

And the Small Business “To Thrive” Financial Support programme will offer grants between £2,000 and £5,000 to cover smaller firms’ expenditure costs essential to their running. Cabinet members agreed to a £150,000 contribution from council resources towards this funding pot.

Councillor White said: “There’s a lot of concern that during the Covid crisis businesses may not be able to invest in training and development and we want to be able to help them do it. It may be to adapt to the changes necessitated by the pandemic but it may be for other reasons as well – it’s about allowing businesses to improve the skills of their staff to make their businesses more efficient.

“The final scheme is grant funding focused on adaptation and innovation so businesses that have seen changes as a result of the pandemic. That may be challenges or it may also be opportunities they have identified where they might need some help to make some changes to their business.”

In total £862,000 will be made available by the county council towards the three programmes, including additional capacity of £108,000.

Councillor Mark Sutton, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Young people seeing they have opportunity for the future is really important and this will help that. People tell me how much they value good quality apprenticeships but they’re not always available across the whole spectrum of work, so I think this will go a good way towards helping and assisting that and ensuring some of our young people have the opportunity to take on a really good apprenticeship going forward.”

Councillor Johnny McMahon, cabinet member for health, care and wellbeing, said: “I fully support this. It has been the case that the younger generation has made a huge sacrifice to protect those who are older and those who are clinically vulnerable over the last few months.

“This proposal is in recognition of that. For those who have made the sacrifice and take the opportunities it will be richly deserved.”

Words: Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter

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