Businesses across the south west will soon have access to a free groundbreaking digital platform to provide them with advice and information on managing health and disability in the workplace.

Called Beacon and led by the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the innovative online resource uses digital tools such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to deliver tailored business advice.

It is specifically aimed at small and medium-sized businesses who may be unsure or even fearful of how to handle workplace health and disability, and how they can create a good place to work by taking positive steps to support their staff.

Beacon will be launched in the next few weeks and businesses can register here for instant access when it goes live.

A year in the making, Beacon’s digital platform has been developed, designed and built in Cornwall with the support of local businesses, and is a UK-first. It has been described as “brilliant” and “like nothing else available” when tested by employers.

In the UK, 400,000 people leave work every year because of a disability or health condition, at an annual cost to the economy of around £100 billion. And research shows that just over half of people with disabilities have a job, compared to over 80% of people without disabilities.

LEP Chair Mark Duddridge said: “We need to close the disability employment gap by helping businesses attract and retain staff from a wider pool of talent, and we need to tackle the issue of workplace health as the workforce gets older. But businesses tell us they don’t know where to start and need help to build their confidence so they can take positive steps.

“Beacon does that by delivering tailored advice about managing health and disability issues in an accessible, informative and engaging way. We know that many businesses are just plain scared when it comes to these issues and that can hold them back, inhibit recruitment and lead to a loss of skills.

“Beacon acts as a guide and gives them the right advice and information when they need it. It’s about creating good places to work that are inclusive, supportive and look after their own.”

Beacon has been co-designed with local businesses in partnership with the University of Exeter, University of Plymouth, Department of Health and Department for Work & Pensions.

The £545k project is funded by the Government’s Employers, Health and Inclusive Employment Unit, with a view to it being rolled out nationally following the pilot project in Cornwall.

Beacon helps businesses navigate and manage health and disability issues and provides them with the right national and local information and advice to support them to make decisions and connect with the right resources quickly, while complying with the very latest employment regulations.

Frances Brennan, diversity champion on the LEP Board, added: “Businesses are struggling to recruit so we need to make it easier for them to find the right people from a wider range of candidates, and to hold on to the people they have. That’s why inclusive growth is such an important part of our Local Industrial Strategy and is a major focus for the LEP. Beacon will help empower business to respond positively to this important agenda.”

One of the businesses that has helped shape Beacon is digital marketing agency Peaky Digital, with offices in Cornwall and Nottingham. MD Natalie Crouch said: “We’re very fortunate to have had an active involvement in the early stages of Beacon. Company culture is hugely important to us and we can really see the business benefits of having access to insightful resources and actionable information relevant to us.”

To receive an alert when Beacon goes live, please register your interest here.