BUSINESSES in Dorset will still be able to apply for European Union-funded grants until the end of 2019, whatever happens with Brexit.

The message comes from support agency Dorset Growth Hub, which has seen a sharp rise in demand for face-to-face support and grants.

EU funding programmes are guaranteed until December as long as application lead-in times are met. Hub managers believe fears and uncertainty over Brexit could be among the reasons they are being kept so busy.

The number of individuals getting 12 or more hours of support from the growth hub grew 75 per cent, from 104 to 182, between the first and second halves of 2018.

The number of businesses receiving the same level of support rose 80 per cent, from 182 to 328.

Over the same periods, the number of grants agreed rose by 150 per cent, from 39 to 98.

Digital capability grants, via the European Regional Development Fund, were particular growth area. More than 50 have been approved in the past year, with more than 100 businesses receiving 12 or more hours of support for their website plans or other digital initiatives.

Nick Gregory, senior investment manager for Dorset Growth Hub, said: “Funding from Europe is guaranteed until December 2019, whatever happens with Brexit, and we will continue to provide tangible support through grants and one-to-one support.

“We are seeing a dramatic rise in the numbers of individuals and businesses coming to us for face-to-face support and to explore what funding streams may be available to help with investment decisions.

“We believe Brexit uncertainty must be playing a part in this but our key message is that we are here to help, whether you are a start-up or an established business, and whether you want to discuss short-term cashflow support or longer-term investment and expansion plans.

“As the current rise in the number of agreed grants shows, our support packages can point the way to loans and grants as well as offering the opportunity to receive mentoring, training and workshops on all aspects of running a business.”

The growth hub, operated by WSX Enterprise, is funded by a variety of sources including local and national government and the European Regional Development fund. It offers 12 hours of free input together with a phone helpline ,’triage’ support and access to ‘business essentials’ workshops. Deeper engagement signposts businesses to sources of grant funding and lending.