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Scheme bids to bolster growth of SMEs

Daniel Liberto

The Growth Vouchers programme, which aims to support more than 20,000 small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, has been set up by the small business network Enterprise Nation to help aid the growing number of UK start-up firms.

Successful applicants will receive a £2000 subsidy to use for advice in either leadership skills, using digital technology, financial management, sales and marketing, or recruitment.

After receiving expert guidance the scheme will then monitor the progress of its selected SMEs to assess the impact of the advice.

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The programme has been launched as a randomised control trial by the department for business, innovation and skills and the Cabinet Office’s behavioural insights team to establish what advice small businesses value. It will run from January 2014 until March 2015.

Lord Young of Graffham, the prime minister’s enterprise adviser, was hopeful that the Growth Vouchers programme would educate the government and convince it to invest more in UK SMEs.

He said: “Small firms have two things in common: they hate taking advice and, second, many do not know where and how to get advice.

“This scheme will help firms take on new people and, importantly, to apply for their first bank loan. Small firms do not know how to get a loan and I hope this will show cash flows.”

The launch follows a SME boom last year that saw more than 526,446 start-up businesses registered in the UK.

With a growing number of ambitious entrepreneurs eager to set up new businesses, Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation and co-founder of the national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain, said it was pivotal to nurture positive growth by offering the type of advice that could ensure long-term sustainability.

She added: “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.”

In order to apply businesses need to have been running for at least 12 months, have fewer than 50 employees and not paid for strategic external advice in the past three years.

Adviser view

Dean Smith, director of Bristol-based My IFA Friend, said: “Anything to help smaller businesses is good but the European Union already offers a similar scheme, which I took advantage of. The EU assigns you a mentor who helps with your business plans, but there are very few grants out there. It helps small business not to fail, but not necessarily to grow. There should be more grants for businesses in terms of lending. Having a mentor is good, but does not mean you will grow or get more customers.”