A £1M business growth fund, which will potentially provide vital support to help local firms and the economy thrive, has been unveiled.

The fund has been set aside by St Helens Council to spur economic growth and drive forward a town that has been hit hard during the recession and with deep public sector cuts.

Grants will range from £500 to £10,000 to assist small to medium sized businesses expand and create jobs, as confidence continues to creep back into the economy.

Investing in new machinery and equipment, or installing a new computer system that could lead to growth are examples of projects that could secure funds.

St Helens Chamber will deliver the Business Grant Fund, which was unveiled during a presentation to more than 50 local companies on Tuesday.

Council leader Barrie Grunewald said: “We all know that following the economic crash of 2008 things changed – all the evidence shows one of the biggest problems for companies is the ability to access finances.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is the best growth expansion plan – banks were simply refusing to lend and take a risk, and while we have started to see a more flexible banking environment, we are still very short of what is needed to help business grow and thrive, I believe that this fund will provide essential support to enable that growth to happen.”

The scheme is one part of St Helens Council’s employment initiative package, which includes a separate £1m loan fund to be launched shortly, and work with the chamber to provide apprenticeships, both within the local authority and private sector companies.

Mr Grunewald added: “Small to medium sized businesses are very important to the borough and we hope this fund will help them get ideas and projects off the ground, with which they may have previously struggled.”

Kath Boullen, chief executive of St Helens Chamber,said: “A lot of businesses who attended the launch were interested in buying equipment, machinery or making their businesses more visible through marketing. The council deserves a lot of credit for continuing to support local businesses, during times when budgets are very tight in the public sector.”

The scheme excludes retailers, takeaways and restaurants. There are also a number of requirements applicants must fulfill.

For more details, call Tracey Rigby 01744 742082, or – for established businesses – call Ian Fletcher on 01744 742108.