IT’S not often that a ‘mad idea’ dreamt up in a traffic jam on the way to Ascot gets much attention.
But a year ago Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage decided to telephone Mark Waldron, editor of The News, to share her lightbulb moment.
One year on and 200 people were at the Lakeside Business Park in North Harbour yesterday to hear about her mad idea – a £2.1m fund to help small and medium-sized businesses in Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant create jobs and grow.
Ms Dinenage’s idea was to get The News to work with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, the University of Portsmouth, and the Federation of Small Businesses to pitch for a share in the government’s £2.4bn Regional Growth Fund.
She said: ‘The idea was driven from a meeting with the RGF people.
‘I wanted to know how do we get that money to the people who need it most? How do we get it to the south of England?
‘Consecutive governments have overlooked the need for investment in this area.
‘They said it’s all about innovative ideas, so we came up with this idea in partnership with our local newspaper.’
Through sheer hard work and persistent questions in parliament, the bid was successful, and yesterday the Bridging the Gap fund was launched by the Solent LEP, as featured on the front page of yesterday’s News.
It is the first of its kind in the UK, and will see small businesses bid for funding either for start-up costs, or to help established firms grow.
‘There’s so much potential,’ added Ms Dinenage.
‘This fund reaches out to businesses that others might miss.’
Firms applying for the money will have to secure private financing in order to get a grant, and both Barclays and RBS banks were at yesterday’s launch to tell those in the audience that they are willing to lend.
Most of the grants will be between £5,000 and £50,000, but there is potential for firms to be given £100,000 if they are truly exceptional.
Around 50 per cent of the grants are to go to firms in Portsmouth, while 40 per cent will go to Gosport and 10 per cent to Havant.
But Stuart Hill, director of the Solent LEP, said: ‘We’re not going to be tied to those numbers, but they reflect the dependency on public sector jobs in our area.
‘We expect the fund to be oversubscribed, and we hope it is.’
To find out more about how to apply for the grant, see solentlep.org.uk