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Ministers launch joint response for a 'robust' South East economy with a 10m package of support

7 August 2008

Government Ministers met regional business leaders and local authorities in Gatwick today to find out more about how the prevailing economic downturn is affecting South East businesses, and to launch a £10m regional response to the prevailing economic situation.

The visit, by Gareth Thomas, Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, and Jonathan Shaw, Minister for the South East, was one of a series of regional visits by Government, designed to give business leaders and local groups the opportunity to feedback their views on the economy.

The government published a joint response by HM Treasury, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), and SEEDA to the current challenges faced by businesses in the South East. This sets out the strengths of an economy which has developed high value businesses, from manufacturing to the service sectors. It identifies the challenges and priorities, detailing the support available at a national, regional and local level to businesses and consumers.

SEEDA also announced a range of new measures to support businesses in the South East, worth up to £10 million, to win new overseas contracts, invest for the future and develop robust business growth. The measures include:

  • new support for firms investing in Research and Development to reach new overseas markets;
  • extending the Selective Finance for Investment in England scheme to the whole of the South East for eligible SMEs whose investment plans are being held up by current economic conditions;
  • a new ‘Immerse’ programme to provide in depth design consultancy to groups of larger businesses; and
  • a new £3m Commercialisation Fund to support high growth businesses to bring new products and services to market.

At the event in Gatwick, the Ministers, SEEDA and business leaders discussed the challenges facing the region and the measures being introduced to help the South East economy.

Jonathan Shaw and SEEDA Chairman Jim Brathwaite then visited Thales, a leading global aerospace, defence and security company based in Crawley, which is investing heavily in state of the art manufacturing and research and development facilities. Alongside the Government’s Technology Strategy Board and other RDAs, SEEDA is investing just over £2m in a consortium of universities and businesses, including Thales, to develop leading technology for unmanned air vehicles, through the £32m ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) programme.

Speaking at today’s event, Jonathan Shaw, said:

"I know that our regional economy and local businesses are facing more difficult times, as we all come to terms with the unprecedented challenges facing global markets. The South East has one of the most successful regional economies in the UK, and has held up well to global challenges in the past. We have a diverse and robust economic base in the region's high value manufacturing sector and the strength of the financial and business service sector. This gives us cause for optimism.

"But it is important that we work with business, local authorities and the third sector to ensure that we come through current challenges. We recognise the importance of increased support for business at this time, and I'm therefore pleased that SEEDA has announced a range of measures today that will bring direct help to the South East's businesses."

James E Brathwaite CBE, Chairman of SEEDA, commented:

"This joint response shows that this region's economy is stable at its core but there are still real challenges for businesses and consumers facing tough times. This is why we have announced a range of new support for the region's businesses with specific responses to the current difficulties and opportunities. We need to make sure that people know what help is available to them, that central Government is fully aware of the issues facing our region and that all our partners are playing their part in keeping this economy moving forward."

Gareth Thomas, Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister at BERR said:

"The South East is being affected by global uncertainty but our regional economies are much stronger now after years of investment and growth. So here in the South East we are determined the Government along with regional and local agencies will all work together to ensure that businesses and households get the support they need."


Notes to Editors:

The support measures announced by SEEDA are as follows:

Rapid Rescue Response: New support from SEEDA

Developing overseas trade

  • Passport to Export to provide new support for firms investing in R&D specifically to reach overseas markets;
  • An advanced package of support to be offered directly to all 1500 businesses which have graduated from Passport to Export;
  • Additional funds to promote UK Trade & Investment’s International Trade Sector Advisors;
  • Immediate extensive research carried out by the 7 Sector Consortia to enable them to identify global markets and sectors offering the best trading opportunities for their members.

Encouraging investment

  • Extending capital grants under the Selective Finance for Investment scheme to the entire South East for eligible SMEs with long-term viability whose investment plans are being held up by current economic conditions;
  • A new £3m Commercialisation Fund to support businesses with high-growth potential to bring new products and services to market as part of the £20 million South East Funding Escalator.

Robust business development

  • A new element to the ‘Designing Demand’ programme called ‘Immerse’ which will provide intensive, extended design support to selected larger businesses;
  • A commitment to increase funding to enable the Manufacturing Advisory Service to meet fully increased demand for its lean innovation programmes;
  • An International Trade Mentor allocated to every new or recent inward investor in the South East;
  • A new ‘Soft Landing’ programme for inward investors to be piloted through Business Link Kent; and
  • A regional media campaign to highlight the importance of sound business plans, followed by a series of events targeted at SMEs.

For more information on the rescue package, please contact

Samantha Philpott on
Tel: 01483 470177


Nick Mann, COI News & PR on

Tel: 0207 261 8395

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