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Business Strategy

In conversation with: Phil Hargreaves, Head of Access to Finance

Phil discusses changes to the financial landscape in the last decade, and how the Hub helps businesses to navigate that landscape to access the finance they need to grow their business.

When and why did you join GC Business Growth Hub? 

I joined the Hub in September 2014 after spending more than 40 years in commercial finance. I was aware of the great work that the team here was doing, and the prospect of helping SMES to understand the financial landscape and access the most appropriate funding for them really appealed to me. I’ve enjoyed every minute in the role, and it’s great to work with a team that genuinely love supporting businesses to unlock their potential.

What is your role and what are your responsibilities? 

As Head of Access to Finance, I’m responsible for the strategic development and implementation of the service. I manage a team of 20 finance specialists who provide guidance to SMEs in Greater Manchester and Lancashire, ensuring that they achieve their targets and support businesses in the right way.

I’m also responsible for ensuring that we deliver value for our funding for our local authority partners. We mainly achieve this by improving and enhancing the capabilities of SMEs to access growth and development capital, enabling them to add value to the local economy through job creation and gross value added.


Can you talk us through the different ways that you work with businesses?

We aim to provide a bespoke service to each business, but the support that we provide often falls into two areas: investment readiness and signposting to the right type of finance. Investment readiness ensures that businesses are ready to apply to relevant funders and that they are as likely to be successful as possible. It’s easy for businesses to be denied funding if they aren’t prepared, so we work with them to understand what potential funders are looking for, and how they can tailor their applications to those expectations.

We also run a one to one diagnostic with every business to understand what their goals are and where they want to be in the short, medium and long terms. Often, we help businesses understand what their internal financial measures and cash flow look like and make them aware of untapped internal capital within their business that they can make use of. Once we understand exactly what they’re trying to achieve, we can signpost them to the right finance and funding for their business, which changes during their growth journeys.

What challenges do businesses in Greater Manchester face when accessing finance? 

Previously, some businesses could access all the finance they needed from their high street banks. However, there has been a proliferation of new funders in the marketplace since the financial crisis, many of which are fintechs that deliver their services online. There isn’t a one-stop shop anymore, and the market can be incredibly complex for SMEs that are trying to access funding. Some businesses don’t realise that alternative finance is available to them if they are denied by their high street bank, so raising awareness of support is another key challenge for us. 

Many of our clients are time-poor and don’t necessarily have the resources to find the right finance for their business, so helping them to make sense of this landscape is one of our most valuable services. We also stay close to quality funders in the market so that we understand market trends and ensure that those funders can provide the services that our clients need.


How have the Hub and Access to Finance services changed during your time at the Hub?  

We’ve been delivering more of our services digitally in the last few years, including meetings businesses and workshops and events. We always appreciate the opportunity to go and meet with potential clients in person, but our digital transformation has enabled businesses to access potential investors and funders in different ways, which is a real positive. Our core service of helping businesses to understand where they sit in the marketplace and how to access the finance that’s best for them hasn’t changed. However, we are working more closely with larger businesses alongside the SMEs and micro-businesses that we’ve always worked with, to deliver even more of a positive impact on the local economy.

We’ve always aimed to be an inclusive service, but we’re actively reaching out to communities that might have been unaware of their finance options or unable to access them previously. We want everyone to be able to access the finance they need to grow their business, and I’m proud to work in a team where everybody is passionate about achieving that goal

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