Bradford scale-ups lead the pack in city region growth programme

Anyone who doubts the UK’s standing as an enterprising nation should have a look at the latest analysis of high-growth businesses. According to most recent ONS data, the UK is now home to 36,510 scale-ups. These are defined as companies growing their turnover or headcount by more than 20 per cent a year. Incredibly, the number of UK scale-ups has increased by 35 per cent since 2013, outstripping GDP growth over the period of just 9 per cent.

This is due to the outstanding efforts of our entrepreneurs, the men and women who never take no for an answer, whose persistence and determination are creating wealth and prosperity. Their contribution is illustrated by their £1.3 trillion in combined turnover and their employment of 3.4m people. These figures, supplied by the ScaleUp Institute, demonstrate the UK truly is one of the best places in the world to grow a business.

We are doing our bit in Bradford. Regular readers will know that our district is home to 48 scale-ups. Together, these account for £1bn in turnover and support 8,000 jobs. Importantly, we are working hard to help more Bradford companies join their ranks through initiatives like the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Strategic Business Growth programme, a £2.7m package of support for ambitious SMEs with growth potential in the Leeds City Region.

The programme is providing advice, specialist workshops, peer-to-peer networks, online growth content and funding opportunities to businesses across the region. It is being delivered by Winning Pitch, an established coaching company which has worked with the likes of Goldman Sachs, Google, Barclays and British Business Bank. It launched the programme on behalf of the LEPin 2017 and a progress report last week has revealed that two of the top-five performers on the programme are based in Bradford.

The first is a designer and manufacturer of specialist building products and is a market leader in its sector with a great track record of innovation in product development. The company has doubled headcount since 2016, exports to more than a dozen countries, works with the University of Bradford to develop skills among its staff and last year completed a major investment in manufacturing facilities in Bradford to boost productivity. This business is doing everything right to secure growth.

The second is a niche provider of payment services which helps to increase financial inclusion. It has a national client base and last year relocated to new offices in the district to accommodate its expansion plans. Headcount has doubled in recent years. This company continues to develop new products and services for its customers. Again, it is doing everything right to secure growth.

While these two businesses serve entirely different markets, they share similar attributes. Both are led by entrepreneurs. Both have been trading for more than a decade, both are in strategically important growth sectors for our region and both are planning well for the future. It takes a long time to build a successful business and it can be difficult and lonely at times but the message I want to share is that there is support available for mature businesses as well as start-ups.

As is always the case, business support programmes are what companies make of them and the more they put in, the more they can expect to take out. I know the programme managers have approved 37 grants totalling more than £900,000 since the scheme was launched, including four in the Bradford district. Grants have supported growing businesses investing in new capital equipment, and will lead to the creation of over 180 new jobs.

One of the participants said: “The Strategic Business Growth programme has been pivotal in the growth of the company. We’ve been able to access regular support to overcome some of our key growth constraints and this has given us the confidence to set ambitious goals for the future.” Its support included three days of account management, 20 days of coaching, 22 workshop and peer-to-peer events and capital funding towards a new office. Group turnover has risen from £3.3m when it joined the programme in summer 2017 to £7.8m at the year ending December 2018. That looks like a good return to me.

Ambition is everything. Among Bradford’s base of 15,000-plus businesses will be a sizeable number on the verge of strong growth in turnover or headcount. Companies like these are busy creating successful futures for themselves, their workforces, their communities and Bradford in the broadest sense. This is something we can all be proud of.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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