Two regional dailies have been awarded £1m of government money each to allow them to create funds to help small businesses hit by the economic downturn.
At the Echo, full details will be announced in the next few days of a new initiative which will see the paper hand out grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to small firms.
And the Morning News is planning a Dragons’ Den-style contest, in partnership with the University of Plymouth, where businesses will compete for a share of the £1m they have been awarded.
Editor Alan Qualtrough said the idea had come about after a visit to the area from former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine who had suggested he could form a group and bid for funding.
He then got local business people and the university together for the bid, which has now been a success – with the competition set to be launched once ‘due diligence’ procedures are completed.
Alan said: “At some point, we hope to create 50 new jobs in the South-West and they will be focussed on areas affected by public sector cuts.
“In one sense, it is as if we are being an arm of central government. But I actually think this is what newspapers should be doing.
“There’s a lot we can do as newspapers to help our communities.
“I think it is absolutely novel. It has never been done before.”
Echo editor Alastair Machray said: “We are delighted to have won Government backing for our campaign. We are planning to announce full details very shortly.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has praised the Echo for the launch of its initiative.
He announced details of the first 50 successful bids to the fund yesterday, which aims to create and safeguard jobs in the areas of England worst hit by the economic downturn.
Mr Clegg said: “It is absolutely fantastic that the Echo has taken the initiative.
“This is exactly the type of innovative project we are looking for, particularly to help small businesses and create jobs.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills allocated £450m as part of the first awards under the Regional Growth Fund, which it hopes will create and safeguard more than 100,000 jobs.