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The advisory panel is currently expected to meet in late February to consider applications from the first bidding round to the fund-once, of course, the bids have been processed.
When the panel meets, will the Minister ensure that the west midlands, hit hardest during the downturn and taking the longest to recover, gets the greatest help from the fund? Does he accept that the fantastic work that has been put in by business men in the black country to get our local enterprise partnership off the ground will be seriously hampered if they do not get the funds they need from the regional growth fund?
I very much welcome the work that has been undertaken by businesses in the black country, and I pay tribute to them for that. Of course, the regional growth fund has to be based on merit, because it needs to be focused on making sure that the best cases come forward. Like the hon. Gentleman, I suspect that some excellent examples will come forward from his area, and from the west midlands as a whole. Cases must be judged on merit alone.
The Black Country Reinvestment Society has a very successful record in arranging loans to micro-businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises across the black country. Does the Minister agree that a good way of getting regional growth fund money to small businesses is by enabling grants from the RGF to investment co-operatives such as the BCRS?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, who is also very expert in this area. We can do this not only through the regional growth fund but by ensuring that we work through, for example, the enterprise finance guarantee, so that small institutions such as community development finance institutions are able to participate, and the micro-loans to which she refers can be extended. I have changed the rules; they can now get involved.