Boost for LEAD Wales project as Finance Minister outlines opportunities for investing further £2bn EU funds in Wales

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An extra £644,000 has been awarded to an EU-backed project, Finance Minister Jane Hutt announced today (Thursday, November 28) as she addressed a conference to highlight the opportunities for investing a further £2bn of EU funds in Wales from next year.

LEAD Wales funding boostSwansea University’s £9m LEAD Wales project supports leaders and owner-managers of small and medium sized businesses and social enterprises to gain new leadership and management skills to drive forward commercial success.

The extra funding will enable the scheme to be rolled out to provide support for middle management of larger SMEs.

Speaking at the Investing in your Future conference in Cardiff, Finance Minister Jane Hutt said: “I am delighted to announce an extra £644,000 for the LEAD Wales project. This is another example of how the UK’s membership of the EU brings benefits to Wales.

“EU funds are having a positive impact on our region, including equipping  business leaders with the management skills needed to build a strong and dynamic workforce is essential to meet the labour market opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century.”

Over 520 business leaders and directors have already participated in the LEAD Wales programme, of which almost 370 have gained qualifications, while over 460 employers have assisted or financially supported.

At the conference the Minister said that a further £2bn EU Structural funds available for the period 2014–2020 would continue to support more businesses, drive research and innovation, help people into work and increase  skills, and tackle poverty.

She also launched the Economic Prioritisation Framework which will help potential sponsors across all sectors to plan and develop quality and innovative projects to address key economic opportunities so that EU investments achieve maximum impact for Wales.

Finance Minister said: “Partnership underpins the development and delivery of the Structural Funds in Wales, and it is essential that we continue to work with our partners to progress the planning of projects that can help achieve our goals for increasing jobs and skills and boosting our economy.”

Ceri Jones, Acting Director Department of Research and Innovation, Swansea University, said: “EU Funds have been vital to our LEAD Wales project. This extra funding will enable us to provide further support to our business leaders and directors so they can improve business performance which, in turn, will benefit the Welsh economy.”

Director of Melin Consultants, Jamie Best, is one of those who took part in the LEAD Wales programme. His company provides specialist technical support for the construction sector to make buildings more sustainable.

He said: “When the recession started to bite and the construction sector slowed down, our company slowed down as well. The LEAD Wales programme gave me all the new tools I needed to look at things in a different way and improve business performance.

“We are now back on track and over the last year we have seen an increase in sales of over 20 per cent and an increase in profitability of over 15 per cent, but the biggest difference for me is that we have a plan in place for our future - thanks to LEAD.”

Wales’ EU investment plans for 2014-2020 will be submitted to the European Commission for approval once the UK Government’s Partnership Agreement has been submitted early next year.

EU projects have already assisted some 465,400 participants, of which some 157,000 have been supported to gain qualifications and some 52,800 helped into work. In addition, over 22,000 (gross) jobs and some 7,000 enterprises have been created.

Photo caption: Finance Minister Jane Hutt, Director of Melin Consultants, Jamie Best (right) and Gary Walpole (left) of Swansea University.