Let’s Grow is operated as a series of quarterly rounds. The first stage of the application process requires an interested company to send an expression of interest, EOI, which can be done by downloading a form from the BE Group website. This can be done at any point irrespective of the quarterly rounds.
There are deadlines for each of the quarterly competitions. The next one is 6 May 2016 for the EOI with a full application deadline of 3 June and the dates for the one after that are: 5 August 2016 and 2 September respectively.
“We then assess that EOI internally against the scheme guidelines,’’ says Simon Allen, BE Group senior project manager. “Those that are eligible are invited to submit a full application and again there’s a deadline by which you need to send us that full application for each round.’’
The full applications are assessed and summarised by the BE Group Let’s Grow team for the investment panel. Some 69% of EOIs result in summaries going forward to the panel, of which it approves about 70%, making an overall approval rate of about 45% of all the original EOIs.
In the interests of efficiency and fairness the panel sees the applications in a standardised format. The panel meets quarterly and will usually hold two or three meetings in a round. Each meeting will typically look at 10 applications. This is a thorough process.
“We meet for three hours and every application gets a reasonable going over and the panel are sent papers in advance so they’ve got time on their own to consider the information and then to discuss it at the meeting,’’ says Allen. The member of the BE Group team who provided the assessment of the application will be at the panel meeting to provide further information.
“They will have spoken to the business and, in some cases, they will have been out to see it and they are there to back up the information,’’ says Allen. “If the panel is unable to make a decision – which is rare but does sometimes happen – they would defer it for us to go back and get more information from the applicant, but usually they either decline it or approve it.’’
Once the panel has made its decision the business is informed. If a business’s application is declined, it can resubmit, but only if it has new information to present that the panel has not seen or if there has been some material change.
Successful applicants are informed that their application is going forward to UNW for a full appraisal, for which there is a fee amounting to 2% of the grant. UNW will then use standard criteria to collect information on the business and its investment project. The firm prepares a report that covers State Aid compliance, viability, the jobs to be created and the expenditure the company will incur.
UNW’s report is sent to the relevant team member at BE Group before being passed to a director to approve the offer of a grant.
“In their report UNW will recommend a course of action. Very rarely they say, `you shouldn’t offer these people a grant’,’’ says Allen. “They will either recommend giving the amount the panel approved or a bit less. In some cases it’s a bit less because they might have found a restriction within the State Aid rules which was a bit obscure which means they can’t have quite as much as they wanted, but most of the time it’s the amount that the panel has approved.’’
Less than 2% of applications have failed at this stage. If successful a legal offer of grant is made and a named officer is appointed from the BE Group team to liaise with the business while they deliver the project. Grant claims are usually made and approved in instalments on a quarterly basis. The officer will make regular visits to the business to monitor progress and organise the payment of claims. BE Group also asks for periodic reports from the business after the grant has been paid on the jobs created.