Government launches £30 million Growth Vouchers programme for SMEs
- BIS and Cabinet Office launch £30 million research project to test what impact business advice has on SME business growth
- The programme will distribute subsidies of up to £2,000 to around 20,000 small businesses in England
Lord Young today launches the Growth Vouchers Programme which will support more than 20,000 small businesses to take on expert advice.
The programme will offer advice and guidance to the businesses taking part and will see subsidies of up to £2,000 being offered to many via a newly-created online marketplace. It will then monitor their performance over the coming years in order to assess the impact that advice has had.
The single platform will make it much easier for businesses to find providers of strategic advice on key topics such as financial management, recruitment, leadership skills, sales and marketing, and digital technology.
Aimed at businesses that have never sought business advice before, the programme is the largest business research project ever initiated by government and will gather comprehensive evidence on which to build future policy.
The programme is being run as a randomised control trial (RCT) by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team. RCTs are widely regarded as a gold standard for empirical research. This is the first time an RCT has been run on this scale and aims to find out what sort of business advice is most effective for government to support.
Five themes of advice
The programme will focus on five different themes of advice which small businesses have said they need help with. These are:
- Improving leadership and management
- Making the most of digital technology
- Managing cashflow, late payments and negotiating finance
- Marketing, attracting and keeping customers
- Developing skills and taking on staff
Businesses that have been running for a year, with fewer than 50 employees, and have not paid for strategic external advice in the past three years will be able to apply for support. They will then go through a process which will help them identify what sort of advice they might benefit from. Small business network Enterprise Nation has developed a marketplace for business advice where participants will then be able to find a qualified adviser.
The new marketplace was built without any public sector funding and will be free for small business to use. It was funded by small business accounts and payroll software provider Sage, technology specialist Toshiba, co-working expert Regus, cloud-based collaboration and data sharing software provider Citrix, telecoms brand Vodafone, email marketing campaign brand Constant Contact and EDF Energy which are showing their support for small businesses by backing the initiative.
It is also supported by professional bodies including the ACCA, ICAEW, BCS, CIPD, CMI and the CIM.
The scheme comes in the context of record numbers of start-up businesses across the UK, with more 526,446 registered in 2013.
The Growth Vouchers programme will run from January 2014 until March 2015.
Founding partners and sponsors
Enterprise Nation is a small business network with more than 75,000 members. Its aim is to help people turn their good ideas into great businesses – through expert advice, events, networking and inspiring books. Enterprise Nation was founded in 2005 by Emma Jones MBE.
Emma said: “This is an exciting initiative which could help accelerate the growth of thousands of small businesses at a critical stage of development – helping them to build long-term sustainability.”
“At the moment, access to business advice is sporadic and highly variable with no means available to help businesses differentiate the good from bad. We want to address this by building a service that establishes suppliers’ credentials to offer advice from the outset and then continually seeks feedback on the quality of those services for everyone to see.”
Enterprise Nation is also heading up a new initiative which seeks to represent the needs of entrepreneurs, called the Entrepreneurs’ Alliance. It is an umbrella pressure group that includes the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the Federation of Private Businesses (FPB) and School for Startups, BusinessZone.co.uk and think tanks Centre for Entrepreneurs and The Entrepreneurs’ Network (TEN) which between them represent 2.5m businesses.
Rich Hughes SME director at EDF Energy said: “At EDF Energy we’re passionate about supporting small businesses through the products and services we offer. We believe the government’s Growth Voucher scheme will be a huge benefit to small businesses and are proud to be a founding sponsor.”
Andrew Millard, senior director of marketing, Citrix said: “Tooling small businesses with easy-to-use apps that enable new, more flexible ways of working is very important to us at Citrix. We are supporting this initiative because we want to encourage entrepreneurs to try new technologies and access resources that can transform the way they work, increasing productivity and improving competitive advantage.”
John Spencer, UK CEO at global workspace provider Regus said: “We are delighted to give our backing to the Growth Voucher initiative which will become a valuable platform for small business growth. In our experience, most start-ups and entrepreneurs recognise the immense value of external business advice but they don’t necessarily have access to suitable resources. This will help them access the kind of advice they need, when they need it.”
“As an accountant for small businesses, I have a real understanding of the challenges that entrepreneurs face in their first few years of starting up around how to confidently steer future growth and ensure business success. I will be working with Sage, which has been a supporter of small UK businesses for over 30 years, to offer my time and financial expertise in Growth Vouchers to support those businesses that need it.”
“As part of this initiative Sage will be offering financial guidance in everything from compliance and trading overseas to hiring a first member of staff plus how to manage accounting and payroll effectively and efficiently. Sage is a big believer in businesses having the freedom to succeed – that said, very few entrepreneurs start out on their own because they just love finance! Sage aims to make finance as simple and easy as possible, so that start-ups can just get on with the job they love doing.”
“We’re excited to be a part of the Growth Vouchers scheme,” said Santiago Alviar-Baquero, head of SMB and distribution for Toshiba in Northern Europe. “Our involvement marks the latest in a line of initiatives we’ve recently undertaken to support small companies across the UK. We look forward to working alongside the Government to further drive growth in this sector.”
Maria Cameron, head of SME marketing said: “Supporting small business is part of our heritage here at Vodafone and we’re passionate about helping entrepreneurs find better ways of working so they can be more efficient, empower their employees and provide the best service for their customers. The pace of change in our ever complex world is accelerating and so getting access to the right experts to help navigate this landscape is a matter of survival. With Growth Vouchers small businesses will be able to access the right advice to help them grow their businesses. We are really delighted to be part of this programme.”