Family business growth pilot prompts vision for national research hub

A national centre for rural family business to be sited in the West Country is being proposed following the success of a scheme to boost the regional economy by providing family farms and firms in Devon and South Somerset with specialist advice to enable future generations to prosper.


Family business growth pilot prompts vision for national research hub

The Family Business Growth Programme (FBGP) was a year-long pilot project established as part of a government scheme to stimulate enterprise and investment in the countryside.  Over the past 12 months the programme has supported 74 farming and non-farming rural businesses in Devon and South Somerset with guidance on issues unique to family businesses, such as governance and succession planning.

As a legacy of the programme, the University of Exeter and Duchy College Rural Business School have developed a proposal for a Rural Family Business Research Hub, providing a national centre for research, training and knowledge transfer. Funding is now being sought to turn the plans into reality.

Dr Matt Lobley from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research explained: “While compiling feedback from the teams of specialist advisers who have been working with rural family businesses on the FBGP over the past year, we recognised that we have gathered a huge amount of information and knowledge and expertise which needs to be available to the tens of thousands of family farms and businesses that operate nationwide.

“Family businesses dominate the private sector economy and therefore play a crucial part in our economic growth. With as many as 70% failing in the second generation, 85% between the second and third generation and 96% between the third and fourth generations, there is a clear reason for establishing a centre of excellence for rural family businesses where there is ongoing research, training for professional advisers and communication of best practice.”

Richard Soffe from Duchy College Rural Business School said: “The South West of England produces 23% of the nation’s food and is dominated by family farm businesses, which surely makes them key to any future strategy to increase business output and prosperity.

“Building on the very successful Family Business Growth Programme fits very well within both the Agri-tech strategy - setting out how government and industry will build on the strengths of the UK sector – and also Horizon 2020 - the biggest EU research and innovation programme which is aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness.” 

The Family Business Growth Programme was designed and managed by Clinton Devon Estates, itself a 700 year old family business, in partnership with the University of Exeter to support the government’s Rural Growth agenda. In 2012 Defra awarded funding to the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to become one of five pilot Regional Growth Networks (RGNs) in England and invited proposals for projects to stimulate the rural economy.   

The FBGP pilot involved representatives from 17 professional firms and six not for profit organisations attending a two day family business master class at the renowned global business school, the Institute of Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland where they received tuition from international family business experts, Professor Joachim Schwass and Ben Bryant. Observers from the NFU, CLA and Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) also attended along with two Devon-based family businesses who provided real-life case studies for the delegates. They were Patrick McCaig from Otter Brewery and farmers Peter and Di Wastenage from Budleigh Salterton. 

John Varley, Estates Director at Clinton Devon Estates explained: “By providing the training to trusted professional advisers, such as lawyers, accountants and land agents, as well as not for profit business advisers, the specialist support could be embedded into small and medium sized enterprises straight-away, making a difference to their future success.

“The results of our pilot programme have demonstrated, beyond doubt, that there is a real need for specialist support for our rural family businesses and farms. It would be a truly wonderful legacy of the FBGP if we were able to establish a centre of excellence for rural family firms.”

During the year-long pilot, nearly 500 family businesses were engaged by the programme participants. A total of seven family constitutions and 21 succession plans were agreed, as well as a significant number of conversations being started within rural family businesses on the subject of family constitutions and succession planning.

A final report entitled “The Impact of the Family Business Growth Programme”, has been produced by Dr Matt Lobley and Hannah Chiswell of the University of Exeter’s Centre of Rural Policy Research and was launched at an event with all of the programme participants on 28th April 2014 at Exeter’s Southgate Hotel.   

But our power for good or evil in this world’s affairs in a countryside is enormous

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

We are trustees for life of the countryside

– 22nd Baron Clinton, 2002

…and the Lord Clinton was, by the whole Council, brought to the King’s presence, who after like thanks was given, was pleased that he should be made High Admiral of England and one of his Privy Council…

– Official record of appointment of 9th Baron Clinton as Lord High Admiral for life on 4th May 1550

to set out against the Scots, the King’s enemies and rebels

– Instructions given by Edward 1 to John de Clinton on 8th April 1298, prior to him leading the Royal army to victory at the Battle of Falkirk. As a direct result the Clinton Barony was formed on 22nd July 1299

Handing over something more valuable than we have today,

– Estates ethos