By Claire West

The Business Secretary was in Southampton today to launch two schemes to improve skills and create sustainable employment, following on from new investment announced in the Autumn Statement.

Vince Cable visited Eastleigh College to announce a new £550 million Further Education Capital Investment Fund which will help improve college facilities across the country. He also announced an additional £310 million for the Regional Growth Fund to create and safeguard jobs. Both schemes will support growth in the economy.

The capital investment will be targeted towards colleges in the greatest need of help to improve facilities, improve efficiency and save money in the long term. Colleges will be able to apply for funding through the Skills Funding Agency.

During the visit, the Business Secretary toured the College’s Technology Skills Centre where he met apprentices learning a range of practical disciplines from plumbing to electrical installation. He also saw the Engage Recruitment unit which works with the local JobCentre Plus to help students of all ages develop their skills, qualifications and work experience in order to find employment.

Eastleigh College is a member of the Ford Multi Agency Task Force which has been set up to address the impact of any job losses from Ford in Southampton. Dr Cable saw how the college is working with local business to help support the unemployed get back to work with different job opportunities.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“Southampton is facing some serious challenges. The Ford van closure was undoubtedly a big blow. But there are some real strengths in the region including the universities and colleges. Eastleigh College plays an important role in the region and its economy. It is heavily involved in the Ford Multi Agency Task Force in Southampton and its’ strong relationship with local business will help produce the highly skilled people the economy needs.

“The quality of further education facilities should match the aspiration of the sector which is why the Government is stepping up capital spending, over the next two years £550 million is being invested in transforming colleges across the country, providing thousands of students with much better facilities.”

Eastleigh College Chief Executive Tony Lau Walker said:

“One hundred per cent of Eastleigh College’s focus is working directly with employers to ensure a prosperous economic future for the region and enable local people to have the employment skills valued by employers for their business growth. New capital funds will ensure Eastleigh College can invest in new facilities and technologies to meet the needs of a growing economy.”

A further announcement from the Autumn Statement was that an additional £310 million will be added to the Government’s Regional Growth Fund. So far, £2.4 billion has been conditionally offered to businesses and intermediaries up and down the country — creating jobs and boosting the local economy.

The south coast has benefited from a number of different Regional Growth Fund projects and programmes. The Solent LEP has been awarded £2m from the Regional Growth Fund to roll out the second phase of the successful Bridging the Gap Funding programme to Southampton and the Isle of Wight.

The scheme is a partnership between Solent LEP, Southampton City Council and the local newspaper, The Daily Echo, to award grant funding to SMEs and startup businesses on a competitive basis. The programme is expected to create or safeguard 200 jobs over the next three years.

This bid was prioritised and moved through the RGF process quickly in light of the potential Ford closure. This will help workers at Ford who may be looking at self-employment as an option and those SMEs in the Ford supply chain that will require support recalibrating their business.

Other beneficiaries of Regional Growth Fund awards for the area include:

Southampton City Council has been awarded a further £5.3 million Regional Growth Fund in support of the 'Platform for Prosperity' project bringing the total to £10.9 million. The project entails the improvement and upgrade of the road infrastructure outside Eastern Docks and is expected to create or safeguard over 800 jobs. The investment outside of the port by the public sector, has given ABP Ports the confidence to invest over £200 million within the port estate over the next few years bringing significant benefits to local enterprises that use the port.

Cobra Precision Engineering and Elite Care Homes are two of the first recipients of £100,000 of phase one of the Solent LEPs Bridging the Gap award. The grant will leverage close to £600,000 additional private investment and create and safeguard 12 jobs at the two firms.

The Solent Future's project is a £13m Regional Growth Fund money investment from Round 3. Part of the funding will be utilised to ensure a sustainable future for the Advanced Manufacturing skills in the Solent workforce. This will bring together leading businesses, colleges and Universities at a world-class training centre on the Solent Enterprise Zone.

The Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust in Portsmouth secured £1.23 million of Regional Growth Fund to support two projects within the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth.

£750,000 will be used to develop the Cell Block Enterprise project which will support enterprise skills development and provide access to early stage funding with mentoring managed by the University of Portsmouth. The project aims to create over 440 jobs in the supply chain.

£475,000 will contribute to the development of the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) which combines heritage conservation with apprenticeships and other training to develop transferrable skills. The project has also had initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund which could result in a final grant of £3.9 million grant to help support the development of heritage skills for the future. Both projects will have a ten year economic life cycle.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“The Regional Growth Fund is helping to stimulate private sector investment and is having a beneficial effect in communities across the country. The additional £310 million of funding will help us support more projects and create more jobs.

“This reflects the success of the fund and the positive impact it is having on jobs - whether it is small SMEs such as Cobra Precision Engineering or larger infrastructure projects. The work of Solent LEP, Southampton Council and other stakeholders is crucial in linking up the public and private sectors to boost economic growth.”

Doug Morrison, Solent LEP Chairman, said:

“The Solent LEP have worked hard to ensure that national funding opportunities such as the Regional Growth Fund are accessible to entrepreneurs and SMEs locally in the Solent; and our work with The Daily Echo, The News, The University of Portsmouth and other organisations on Bridging the Gap is a fantastic example of this.

“We are finding that locally, we are able to administer funding extremely quickly and efficiently, and the first two funding recipients from Bridging the Gap announced by Dr Cable today highlight this. Of course this investment comes at a challenging time for the Solent economy; and the work we are doing with Eastleigh College on the Ford task force and the investment we have been able to secure for schemes like phase 2 of Bridging the Gap and Platform Road in Southampton will help our economy come through this difficult period.”