BES minutes 21 February 2024

Meeting details

Date and time: 21 February 2024, 11am to 12:30pm.

Location: University of Brighton, Moulsecoomb Campus.

1. Welcome and introductions

1.1  PH welcomed everyone to the meeting. He explained that this was the first of the new ‘open’ Business East Sussex meetings, and that he hoped more and more businesses from around East Sussex would join us at future meetings.

1.2  PH asked the meeting to approve the minutes of the last meeting; no objections were raised, and the minutes were approved.

2. Round table updates

Kane Tudor, East Sussex County Council

2.1  KT updated the meeting on the Business East Sussex Growth Hub and other business support programmes. KT explained that the Business East Sussex Growth Hub provides information and signposting support to businesses in East Sussex. Similar to a GP in the NHS, the Growth Hub aims to provide businesses with the information they need or refer them on to the right support for their needs.

2.2  KT noted that he is confident that the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) will fund Growth Hubs next year financial year from April 2024, but it is not clear how it will be funded or at what level. Growth Hub funding has traditionally come through the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), and with Local Enterprise Partnerships ending, new contracting arrangements need to be put in place.

2.3  KT advised that two new business support programmes have now launched across East Sussex but excluding Hastings (as they chose not to join the partnership). These are:

  • Ready to Grow – a programme to support new businesses that have been trading for up to three years; businesses will receive a mix of 1:1 mentoring, workshops and peer support as part of a cohort of 8-10 businesses.
  • Big Ambitions – a programme to support more ambitious businesses with more complex growth challenges with 1:1 specialist advice. This programme ensures that businesses are supported by specialists in their subject, for example, PR support from a PR professional. The programme has some specialists attached to the programme but will seek out further specialisms in response the needs of each business.

2.4  You can find out more by joining the East Sussex Business Hub which has been created alongside the programme to support more businesses with additional content and resources:  East Sussex Business Hub (

2.5  KT advised that ESCC are also running a Rural Business Grants Programme with Rother and Wealden. Businesses can receive 50% grants up to £50,000 for projects that support their growth. KT noted there is a strict eligibility guidance. Businesses can find out more and apply here: Rural Business Grants Programme

Innovate UK Discussion

2.6  BD noted it can take more than six months to receive an Innovate UK Grant from the point of award, which is too long and means that this isn’t a viable option for all businesses.

2.7  KT noted that Innovate UK (IUK) have had huge increases in funding and scope in recent years, and they now deliver growth support and advice, as well as an accelerator programme. It’s important that we think of them as a tool for us to help companies grow and not only for innovation.

2.8  LD noted that Innovate UK Edge and the Knowledge Transfer Network have rebranded in the last few days to Innovate UK Business Growth and Innovate UK Business Connect.

2.9  ME asked where businesses could go to hear about these offers, and KT advised that businesses should go to the Growth Hub to find out what support is available. Businesses can contact the Growth Hub on 01273 335 878 or email

2.10  AT noted that businesses often struggle with the paperwork to access these offers. PH commented that when he was at Marshall Tufflex, they would hold ‘meet the buyer’ events for that reason so they could help advise local businesses on how to become suppliers.

2.11  LD noted that there has been a huge drop in funding for business support, and for universities to support businesses. In years gone by the University of Brighton used to support businesses with paperwork and in other ways to access these funds.

2.12  NB noted that many businesses can get frustrated by the very short calls that Innovate UK announce, and suspect that this is because they know where the funding will be awarded. However, NB advised that businesses can reach out to IUK and ask them to release funding for a type of call. This is especially effective at certain points in the year when IUK need to spend budgets before the end of the financial year.

2.13  NB noted that attending Catapults is a great way of engaging IUK, as they have engagement targets with these groups. Attending can help increase your chances of being successful for grants or encouraging them to release money in your area of interest.

Alison Turner, Federation of Small Businesses

2.14  AT noted that the latest FSB Confidence Survey has shown a downturn in confidence amongst small businesses. PH asked and AT agreed to share the survey with the group.

ACTION – AT to share Confidence Survey so this can go out with the minutes.

2.15  AT noted that businesses have asked to go back to face-to-face networking, so the FSB is running more in person events. Because of the lower numbers they have merged Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Medway and will rotate between the areas.

2.16  AT advised that they are running some AI training in Horsham soon and can put on more dates if this is popular. Attendees do not have to be members.

Jo Simmons, South East LEP

2.17  JS advised that the South East LEP is coming to an end at the end of March 2024, with some staff remaining for a short time to wrap up operations.

2.18  JS noted that she has been looking at the future of the Growth Hub, and lobbying government to announce funding and funding amounts for next year. Funding has been particularly poor in the past couple of years and there is a hope this change might bring more funding. JS noted she is looking forward to seeing how the Growth Hub evolves in the future in a different contracting landscape.

Brett Pearson, Locate East Sussex / Let's Do Business Group

2.19  BP advised that he was deputising for Graham Marley, and even if confidence was dropping there were many businesses in East Sussex that are still growing and looking to grow.

2.20  BP advised that Locate East Sussex are still receiving enquiries from businesses, and around two enquiries a week from the Department for Business and Trade about potential inward investors. BP noted that the Locate East Sussex contract ceases at the end of April 2024.

Martin Ellis, Recruitment South East

2.21  ME reflected on the recruitment market at the moment, and echoed AT’s point about confidence dropping. ME noted that businesses aren’t recruiting as they were, and some may be pausing where they would have acted a few months ago.

Zoe Volks, FE Sussex

2.22  ZV advised that she has been working on an app to connect students to local businesses and hopefully create apprenticeship opportunities. ZV advised that they were hoping to give the app a test run in August and would want to share it with this group. PH advised we could use the minutes to communicate it and get everyone to include the app in their newsletter whenever it was ready.

ACTION – ZV to share student connection app with BES Group to promote once app is ready.

Apprenticeship Discussion

2.23  PH noted that apprenticeships had been really positive for Marshall Tufflex when he had been CEO. He asked the group how we can drive more apprenticeship uptake locally?

2.24  DH advised that we need to tell people about the benefits of an apprenticeship both for the employer and the apprentice. She noted that some businesses have to pay for the training under the new rules, but in practice most small companies can get the training element for free with the right advice.

2.25  DH noted that the Transform Programme run by ESCC had been helpful in using the ESCC apprenticeship levy funds to fund training for apprenticeship places in local companies. KT advised that European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding has ceased.

  • Transform transition arrangements from January to March 2024 have been put in place, offering a reduced service to support SMEs to access East Sussex County Council apprenticeship levy transfer and facilitate access to the Transform Toolkit which is a self-serve version of the current face-to-face service.

2.26  ME commented that the landscape was quite confusing for businesses, and what they needed was an ‘Apprenticeship Guru’ or somewhere they could go for support with hiring an apprentice.

2.27  DH noted that she would be happy to speak to businesses and be this person, and that she has a team of advisers who do exactly this with local businesses. They can explain apprenticeships to a business and help them find out if an apprentice is right for their business, and equally if not.

2.28  LD noted that there is information on degree apprenticeships on the Brighton University website: Higher and Degree apprenticeships.

2.29  It was agreed that DH would do a LinkedIn ‘Shout Out’ for members to share, and present at the next Business East Sussex meeting on apprenticeships.

Nick Backstrom, FE Sussex

2.30  NB advised that FE Sussex have been working with the council to train local businesses on retrofitting. There is a high demand for retrofitting as part of the UK’s path to Net Zero but very few trades people are trained to do this. NB asked if the group could help promote this.

ACTION – NB to share retrofitting information with BES Group to promote.

Brian Drinkwater, Kyle Partnership

2.31  BD thanked other members for inviting him to the meeting and advised that he was here on behalf of several other businesses who wanted to find out if it was worth engaging with this group. BD noted that he thought the discussion had been valuable and would be reporting back that it was worth engaging in the future.

Lorraine Davies, University of Brighton

2.32  LD delivered a presentation on how the University of Brighton supports businesses. 

3. AOB (any other business)

3.1  PH thanked everyone for attending the meeting and asked everyone to keep spreading the word. He said the mission of this group was to make East Sussex the best place to do business in the UK.

3.2  ME noted that there were changes on the horizon with the LEP ending. He asked that if Locate East Sussex is not continuing, what is the plan for inward investment going forward?

Response provided by ESCC post meeting:

  • Locate East Sussex (LES) is a commissioned service. It has run over several years, providing an inward investment service.
  • The LES contract ceases at the end of April 2024, having had the maximum one-year contract extension allowable under procurement regulations. The original three-year contract 2020–2023 was funded via European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) with match funding contributions from the County Council and all district and borough authorities. The one-year extension put in place from May 2023 was funded by ESCC alone, partners having withdrawn funding to enable them to match fund other business support provision and highlighting their concerns regarding the impact of the contract.
  • Current limited financial resources mean that in future all strategic commissioning decisions will need to have a clear focus on providing maximum value for money and, very importantly, maximum impact within any available funding envelope. Decisions will therefore need to have a clear line of sight to the emerging East Sussex Economic Growth Strategy (currently being developed by Team East Sussex, the de facto Growth Board for the county and ESCC) and the evidence/direction that it will set out.
  • No strategic commissioning activity is being undertaken by the Economic Development Team until the Strategy is published and there is more clarity around both priority interventions and the availability of resources to support activity.

3.3  DH noted that East Sussex College Group are working on a new Innovation and AI training course that will be £15 with lunch and members are welcome to attend. It will be run before 31st March but there isn’t a date as of yet.

3.4  PH asked the meeting what had gone well in the first ‘open’ meeting of BES:

  • Good discussion and communication.
  • Had learnt things they otherwise wouldn’t have done.
  • Enjoyed being back face to face.

3.5  PH asked the meeting what could be improved:

  • Fewer acronyms.
  • More businesses in attendance.
  • More business support organisations like Chalk and Freedom Works.

3.6  The next meeting will take place on Thursday 21st March 2024 from 1pm to 2.30pm at the ESCG and OHM Energy Green Training Hub, 3A Hampden Retail Park, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN23 6QU.

Summary of actions

2.14  AT to share Confidence Survey so this can go out with the minutes.

2.22  ZV to share student connection app with BES Group to promote once app is ready.

2.30  NB to share retrofitting information with BES Group to promote.

Attendees and apologies


  • AT, Alison Turner, Federation of Small Businesses
  • BD, Brian Drinkwater, Kyle Partnership
  • BP, Brett Pearson, Locate East Sussex / Let’s Do Business Group
  • DH, Donna Harfield, East Sussex College Group
  • JS, Jo Simmons, South East Local Enterprise Partnership
  • KT, Kane Tudor, East Sussex County Council
  • LD, Lorraine Davies, University of Brighton
  • NB, Nick Backstrom, FE Sussex
  • HB, Heather Backstrom, FE Sussex
  • PH, Paul Hetherington, Chair of Business East Sussex


  • AC, Ana Christie, Sussex Chamber of Commerce
  • GM, Graham Marley, Let’s Do Business Group
  • KB, Kerry Barrett, Lewes and Eastbourne Councils