East Devon District Council: Innovation and resilience fund
The Innovation and Resilience Fund (IRF) is a £1.2 million programme focused on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It was delivered between September 2021 and April 2022, and was designed to support innovative projects that:
- Support business diversification and the development of new and innovative products
- Enable carbon reductions and biodiversity enhancements
- Enable and safeguard high value jobs
- Offer inclusive opportunities to disadvantaged individuals
Businesses were able to propose an innovative project which would transform their business, deliver against the fund’s core aims and support the local economy. Their proposals included a projection of the amount of grant funding required, with up to £50,000 of grant funding available per business, or up to £150,000 for a collaborative bid. Free specialist assistance was provided to applicants to help transform their innovative idea into a bid-ready project that met the key fund aims.
The fund marked a transition from hardship based discretionary grants, linked to periods of lockdown, to a resilience focussed fund which sought to encourage, facilitate and champion best practice in terms of business adaptation, innovation, net zero and diversification. At a time when councils were counting the cost of the pandemic on local employers, the council realised the power of positive investment, allocating £1 million of its own funds to help unlock economic recovery and employment growth and marking a much more confident and focussed resurgence for many local employers and organisations.
The council’s Economic Development team worked with local businesses to help develop the scheme’s core priorities and eligibility criteria. This public-private sector partnership approach was critical to making the scheme as accessible as possible.
Fifty-one local businesses benefitted from the fund, enabling a broad range of projects to be delivered. A key aim of the IRF was to help drive clean growth and reduce carbon emissions, consistent with the council’s commitment to achieve net zero by 2040. Of the 51 successful applicants, 47 were micro or small businesses, including nine sole traders. In addition to the £2.1 million awarded in direct grants, a further £2.1 million in volunteered match-funding was unlocked, bringing total investment up to £4.2 million.
This scheme is creating 103 new jobs and 11 new apprenticeships, with 36 businesses committing to launching a new product or service. The council expects up to a quarter of all grant funds awarded to be spent on goods and services purchased from other East Devon businesses. One beneficiary of the scheme was a collaboration partnership between Sigma Technical and Two Drifters Distillery located on a local science park. This collaboration between two organisations, is utilising £150,000 of IRF funding to develop a product which will remove CO2 from the air using a direct air capture machine.
The success of IRF has led the council to dedicate a significant proportion of its UK Shared Prosperity Fund and Rural England Prosperity Fund to delivering a second Innovation and Resilience Fund from April 2023.