Mayor Houchen set up a business support line for Tees Valley companies seeking advice and support during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 24-hour service, established with the support of Stockton-based call handing provider Lemon Business Solutions, helped more than 1,000 businesses in its first week of operation, providing specific advice based on the support available from government.
As well as providing specific advice to businesses across the region, the service is directing callers to other organisations and resources which can provide the appropriate advice where necessary.
Businesses, employers and the self-employed can access the service by calling 01642 662 777 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Houchen launched Buy Local Tees Valley to connect local people with businesses and local tradespeople across the region that are still open or operating during the coronavirus pandemic.
The platform aims to give these businesses a boost by highlighting their availability to the general public, and help local people know where to go for goods and service.
Less than two weeks from launching, more than 500 Tees Valley businesses and tradespeople had signed up and declared themselves open for business.
The site covers a huge range of businesses and services, from record shops in Darlington and family butchers in Hartlepool to chartered surveyors in Middlesbrough, tyres and exhaust specialists in Redcar and Cleveland, car and van hire in Stockton-on-Tees and many more.
The site can be found at buylocal.teesvalley-ca.gov.uk
Mayor Houchen spearheaded the delivery 50,000 100ml bottles directly to schools, social workers, carers and coronavirus responders through local councils across the region to help protect the health and wellbeing of local people closely involved in responding to the virus.
He also offered 20,000 bottles of hand sanitiser to charities, community groups and care settings across the Tees Valley to help them fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Bottles were also provided to NHS GP practices, Cleveland Police and members of the fire brigade.
The bottles were secured from Stockton-based firm which specialises in the supply of hand sanitiser to the health and beauty treatment sector.
The gel was delivered by a local businessman who wanted to do something to help the community after being furloughed at work and has offered his time and delivery vans to help out.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Houchen led calls for the vacant Sainsbury’s supermarket building in Middlehaven, Middlesbrough to be used as part of the region’s coronavirus response measures, describing it as a ready built solution to relieve pressure locally, increase testing capacity, and help to save lives.
The site was used as a hybrid site, offering both assisted and self-administered tests. Following extensive discussions, including with local authorities and the NHS, the Government identified the Middlehaven Sainsbury’s site as the best location for a new testing centre. It was found to be most suitable due to the amount of people that could be tested at the site and how long it is available for.
The vacant building has laid empty for five years after Sainsbury’s pulled out of a move in 2015 from its current home in the town’s Wilson Street.
Mayor Houchen also offered the use of the St George Hotel at Teesside International Airport as a location for a temporary medical facility throughout the pandemic.
Mayor Houchen outlined a £1million package of support for front-line hospitality and tourism businesses across the region, including a £250,000 fund to help them reopen in time for summer.
The £250,000 Welcome Back Fund is the first phase of this year-long programme of support, which will help independent small and medium-sized visitor-facing businesses to reopen, with grants of up to £1,500.
These grants will help businesses to make changes to the way they work to accommodate customers after the lockdown, including funding safety measures such as screens and adding floor markings and sanitisation points at their premises.
Local hospitality businesses such as pubs, restaurants, museums, venues and hotels have been seriously impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, with most of those businesses unable to open or working under severe restrictions over the past few months. These businesses are worth almost £1billion to the local economy however 98% of them said they required funding support to survive, compared with 83% across all sectors.
The fund will also help businesses promote their reopening and help to ensure they meet the “We’re Good To Go” national tourism industry standards unveiled by Visit Britain.
The rest of the £1million investment will be used to bring more visitors to Tees Valley, and to help firms in the tourism, leisure and culture industries to cater for them and adapt to the new realities of doing business.
Measures to support them in the Mayor’s twelve-month plan include a high-profile campaign to show that the region has reopened for visitors, as well as further financial support and training.
Mayor Houchen pledged to fund the wages of more than 100 apprentices to encourage businesses to offer employment to more 16-20-year-olds as part of their coronavirus response.
The near £1million scheme will be used to fund 100% of the apprentices’ wages in their first six months of employment, and 50% for the remainder of the apprenticeship, up to a maximum of two years.
This will provide an incentive to businesses and sectors which have been worst hit by the coronavirus to create at least 100 new apprenticeships for 16-20-year-olds, and it will also boost youth employment across the Tees Valley, in particular helping those who are not currently in education, employment or training.
Businesses who sign up to the scheme will also be asked to pay the national minimum wage, rather than the national apprenticeship wage, where applicable, and the apprentices will also be employed for a minimum of 30 hours a week.
Businesses looking to register an interest in the new funding can do so by visiting www.teesvalley-ca.gov.uk/skills-employment/skills/apprenticeships
The £250,000 Back to Business Fund will allow firms to get direct professional support, advice and guidance in areas such as HR, accountancy, legal, financial, health and safety, IT and digital to aid their recovery and future growth.
This will support businesses within the visitor sector to develop new business strategies, cashflow planning, new HR policies and changes to digital methods including shifts to online trading.
Grants between £1,000 and £3,000 were made available for businesses operating in the hospitality and visitor economy across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.
At the start of lockdown, Mayor Houchen joined the charity Little Sprouts in delivering food for people who were self-isolating or shielding.
Everyone was in good spirits but were understandably feeling a bit fed up. They all welcomed a short, socially distanced visit and were over the moon to receive some vital supplies.
Via their mobile kitchen, Little Sprouts’ cooking and food education projects are designed to inspire everyone to make better food choices through practical, innovative and fun cooking workshops aimed at all ages and abilities.