Help and where to find it28 May 2014
Clive Lewis FCA, head of enterprise at ICAEW, gives his advice on the best sources of government assistance for small businesses
Starting or growing a business can be very challenging, so it’s natural for businesses to tap into all the help they can find - particularly if it comes from the government, writes Clive Lewis. But many businesses seeking help become confused by the vast array of initiatives and eventually give up looking for help.
Most national and local grants focus on particular business activities or purposes. These themes are:
There are regional grants that support growth through capital investment and job creation. The location of your business may increase your chances of successfully applying for a grant. You may be eligible for support if you’re starting a business in an economically disadvantaged area, especially if it’s one with high unemployment. At present, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and West Wales and the Valleys get the most support from the EU. Local support (e.g. subsidised rent and rates) is often available to encourage small businesses to start up in particular areas.
There is a wide range of grant schemes that encourage research and development (R&D) activities in the UK’s high-tech industries. Support is available from investigating an idea through to proof of concept and development (Find out more). R&D grants that focus on specific industries are periodically launched (e.g. The Carbon Trust, DEFRA and WRAP). There are also tax incentives that support R&D activities.
Energy and the environment
These schemes recognise the additional cost for businesses that adopt or engage in investments that improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact. R&D programmes are available to companies working on developing energy and environmental products. Grant schemes may be available for new buildings or for refurbishing existing buildings that aim to improve energy use. Capital allowances are also available to businesses that install energy saving equipment and processes.
Assistance to develop the skills and capability of staff is provided through apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Service gives advice to employers on how to start an apprenticeship scheme in their business. You may also qualify for a grant of £1,000 towards recruitment costs and a further £1,500 towards training if you take on a long-term unemployed person.
The GOV.UK ‘Finance and support for your business’ finder
Use this database to find government-backed support and finance for businesses, including grants, finance and loans, business support (e.g. mentoring and consultancy) and funding for SMEs and start-ups. You can customise your search by location, size and activity to narrow down the eligible schemes available.
The Growth Vouchers programme helps small businesses access expert advice to help them grow. Vouchers worth up to £2,000 will be given to the majority of businesses who sign up for the programme to help them pay for strategic private sector advice. Businesses have to match the amount with their own funds. Find out more about more about Growth Vouchers and apply online here
Successful businesses will then be able to search for a supplier on the new marketplace managed by Enterprise Nation. Accredited suppliers feature the Growth Vouchers logo next to their name.
If none of these themes relate to your business, don’t despair. The government also offers support through tax schemes such as R&D Tax Credits and capital allowances to reduce tax liabilities. Your chartered accountant will be able to advise on the schemes which may be available to your business.
National Business Support Helpline
The Business Support Helpline is a key element of the government’s business support provision. It provides signposting, diagnostic support and business improvement advice to pre-starts, start-ups, and existing businesses to help them start and grow. The service provides national information, which all businesses require, plus advice and signposting to local sources of help.
For businesses that need additional assistance, have immediate, complex needs or may be at risk, there’s a specialist business advice service offering more in-depth advice through a small team of experienced Business Support Advisors (BSAs). They offer up to 60 minutes of free telephone business support, tailored to the individual business needs. The Helpline also has an information knowledge bank, collected over many years of delivering business support, and also holds the database for the Business Finance and Support Finder tool on GOV.UK.
GOV.UK is a single point of access to all government services and information, and national and local publicly funded business support services. It provides advice and information on what businesses could and should do to start well and thrive. Apart from the ‘Finance and support for your business’ database, the website also has information on:
- Employing people
- Money and tax
- Business and self-employed
Government national business support programmes
Mentors ME - Provides access to 15,000 trained volunteer business mentors from the SME community to boost local mentor networks. Find out more
Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) - Supports manufacturing businesses in England by reviewing their business and providing subsidised consultancy support in areas such as business planning, manufacturing , innovation and efficiency, raising finance and growing the supply chain. Find out more
GrowthAccelerator (GA) - Supports SMEs with high growth potential to access finance, commercialise innovation, develop leadership skills and formulate/deliver a high growth strategy. Find out more
UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) - Provides advice on export capability and opportunities, contacts in overseas markets, arranging overseas visits, e-commerce, export training and market research. Find out more
Technology Strategy Board (TSB) - Provides grant funding (not advice) to support R&D and innovation activity to companies across the UK mainly through web based competitions, some of which are targeted at SMEs (e.g. the Smart Programme and Innovation Vouchers). Also supports networks to connect partners to promote knowledge sharing. Find out more
Design Council (Designing Demand Programme) - Small national programme that helps SMEs use design to improve performance through bespoke packages of design support and coaching delivering through design associates. Find out more
Intellectual Property Office (IPO) - Provides services such as workshops for SMEs, IP awareness raising and online assessment tools. It also trains independent business advisers as IP auditors so that they can advise SMEs on IP issues. Find out more
Broadband Connection Vouchers - The UK government is offering vouchers worth up to £3,000 to save your business money on better broadband. Broadband Connection Vouchers will be available in 22 SuperConnected Cities across the UK. Find out more
British Business Bank - The British Business Bank is a new government initiative. Its website has easy-to-understand information on all types of finance and their advantages and disadvantages.
Local help for business
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are a voluntary partnership between local authorities and businesses in England to help local economic development. As a result of recent government initiatives, LEPs are being supplemented by Growth Hubs. These are a single local access point for all public and private sector business support, effectively a ‘front end’ for LEPs and other national local economic support.
Growth Hub partners include chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and other business bodies, universities/university business schools, other private sector bodies (including local partners delivering national programmes) and national government. Find your local LEP
If you need help with your business plan, or simply want to talk over the financial information and forecasts, a free initial discussion with an ICAEW Business Advice Service (BAS) firm is a good place to start.