With reports of a £9.6 billion contraction in business lending in 2011, and missed lending quotas, banks remain under fire for not giving businesses the support they need to survive the economic downturn.
Add to that last week’s news that the UK is “back in recession”, and the business community will be clamouring even more loudly for the government to put its money where its mouth is and support UK business.
At a local level, I see both sides of the argument in action. Business owners talk a lot about the banks’ reluctance to lend, while banks decry weak business plans, low-quality cashflow forecasts and poor funding pitches that lack solid commercial grounding from some of the businesses approaching them for funding.
And, for as long as nobody is there to bridge the gap, never the twain shall meet.
A huge part of our role here at the Business School is to help equip businesses with the skills and advice they need to remain sustainable. That’s why we’re supporting the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) “Starting a Business with Confidence” pilot.
The programme of support is designed to prepare businesses for delivering funding pitches, and encourages them to scrutinise their idea or business objectively from a potential funder’s perspective in order to create a strong and robust pitch.
The programme comprises an online course, backed by face-to-face mentoring and a “trial-run” pitch, which is critiqued by a panel of bankers and honed to perfection before businesses meet prospective funders or investors.
There’s already a huge amount of quality information available to people from organisations such as HMRC and the Complete Business Reference Adviser (COBRA). This programme is not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about pulling those resources together and providing a single access point, alongside high quality, bespoke advice and support from experienced business owners, financial services professionals and investors.
A pilot scheme is currently under way, in which 15 local businesses are trialling the programme. Feedback from both those delivering and those participating in the pilot will form a valuable part of the programme’s final-stage development.
The aim is to develop valuable and relevant support that will enable business to approach potential funders with confidence and a robust pitch and business plan. Watch this space for further news – we’re very much looking forward to seeing the outcome.
• Jackie Mathers is Dean of the Business School at York St John University.