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Heart of the South West LEP award £2m in funding for digital skills and business support

The Heart of the South West LEP have today announced that they have awarded funding for two new programmes providing digital skills and digital business support in the Heart of the South West region.

The Digital Skills Programme will be delivered through Devon County Council, and the Digital Skills Utilisation Programme will be delivered through Devon County Council and the Heart of the South West Growth Hub. Both programmes are due to run until March 2025 across Somerset, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay.

The Digital Skills Programme has three strands:

  • Working with secondary school pupils to increase the overall number taking GCSE Computer Science and the proportion of female pupils opting to take GCSE Computer Science.
  • Providing specific digital training for the key sectors of advanced engineering, clean growth, healthcare, tourism and agriculture.
  • Working with the leaders of micro-businesses and SMEs to support the take-up and use of digital within their business. 150 SMEs are expected to benefit from this through a mix of workshops and one-to-one support provided to 12-14 business leaders every 3 months.


The Digital Skills Programme will build on a previous pilot that encouraged better engagement between schools and key business sectors across the Heart of the South West area and will involve the Heart of the South West’s Career Hub.

Debra Steele, Senior Economic Development Officer for External Programmes at Devon County Council, said: “I am excited and proud to be involved with the Digital Skills Series. The programme will support and enable Digital Skills capability across the region, as well as supporting the aspirations of our future workforce, future business owners and leaders.”

The Digital Business Support Utilisation Programme is a £500k investment to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) make better use of digital technology in their business. This is particularly important given the digital uptake amongst businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Digital Business Support Utilisation Programme includes:

  • The support of two specialist full time Digital Advisors offering comprehensive specialist digital diagnostic and ongoing support to SMEs.
  • All businesses involved will receive a digital roadmap to kickstart their digital adoption journey.
  • All businesses will be signposted to local and national programmes, such as the replacement to the Growth Support Programme and Digital Boost, Enterprise Nation, Digital Garage and Help to Grow.
  • The programme will place a particular emphasis on supplying digital support for tourism, retail and agriculture by providing an Information Knowledge Hub; bringing together publicly available and relevant digital resources, as well as newly commissioned content from Digital Advisers and other specialists.


David Hynd, Programme Manager at the Heart of the South West Growth Hub, said “By connecting SMEs in the Heart of the South West with digital advice and support sources, we aim to help businesses grow through enhanced understanding and exploitation of digital technologies.

“The next steps towards achieving our goal of launching the Digital Business Support Utilisation programme in the Autumn include recruiting for digital business support roles to provide in-depth advice and knowledge that can boost digital skills across a variety of sectors in the region.”

In total, the Heart of the South West LEP are investing £2m in the programmes, to increase digital skills in the Heart of the South West region, streamline services, and connect businesses.

Karl Tucker, Chair for the Heart of the South West LEP, said “We are delighted to support the development of digital skills in the Heart of the South West by investing in the Digital Skills Programme and Digital Business Support Utilisation Programme.

“These programmes will provide more readily available support opportunities with skilled digital advisors and experts from core sectors in the region. The support and training provided can be used as a springboard for SMEs to grow and prosper.

“We look forward to getting the programmes underway and seeing the benefits take effect for businesses across the region.”

Both programmes are currently in the setup, recruitment and development phase, before going live.

Find out more about the Heart of the South West Growth Hub:


Comprised of business leaders from across our key sectors, the LEP Board oversees the programme of infrastructure, business support and skills projects being delivered by 2025.

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      David Ralph

      Chief Executive

      David Ralph started as Chief Executive of Heart of South West LEP at the beginning of June 2018. Previously, he had spent 5 years as CEO of the Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire (D2N2) LEP from 2013 where he oversaw the development of the D2N2 Strategic Economic Plan and sector strategies, 3 Growth Deals with HM Government to deliver a £1billion capital investment programme, securing and implementing £200m ESIF programme, the Derby and Nottingham Enterprise Zone, the D2N2 Skills Deal and Time for Innovation programme, community fund and led the executive team to develop the HS2 East Midlands hub. He was also closely involved in the proposed North Midlands Devolution Deal and one of the key architects in establishing the Midlands Engine, chairing the officer steering group. Whilst in this role David was a NED of the Nottingham Enterprise Zone, and Marketing NG, the Outer Estates Foundation and a Governor of Nottingham College and on the advisory Board of Nottingham Business School.

      Before the East Midlands, David was CEO of the Have Gateway Partnership working closely with local stakeholders including the ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich and BT Adadastral Park across Suffolk and Essex and prior to that was Chief Exec of the Barton Hill New Deal for Communities programme in Bristol and the Nelm Development Trust in Norwich.

      David is a keen sailor, walker and trail runner.