Small and medium-sized businesses have been slow to join a new government scheme designed to help boost productivity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Help to Grow scheme, which launched in August 2021, was supposed to help 30,000 small company leaders with training in areas like marketing and financial management.
The £520m scheme is a key part of the government’s plan to tackle productivity problems in the economy but reports from the Financial Times suggest that just 2,500 companies have signed up so far.
The Federation of Small Businesses said that the scheme was well-intentioned but excluded up to 90% of the country’s SMEs. They say that one of the key barriers to small businesses is the requirement that companies must have a minimum of five employees.
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) also wrote to Minister for Small Business Paul Scully citing ‘significant concerns about its unnecessarily restrictive eligibility criteria’.
AAT complained that the scheme excludes the UK’s 170,000 charities and limits participation to just one member of staff per qualifying company.
It’s thought the government may now redesign the scheme to improve participation from small businesses which have so far been excluded.
A spokesperson for the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Feedback from participating business leaders has been very positive so far.
“We urge businesses to sign up if they haven’t already to learn how to reach new customers, boost profits and expand.”
Last month, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to FTSE 250 companies urging them to encourage smaller companies in their supply chain to get behind the Help to Grow scheme.
The Help to Grow Management Course is a 12 week training programme designed to fit in a busy manager’s schedule. Participants get one to one support from a business mentor who will help them develop a bespoke plan for business growth. The scheme is delivered at leading business schools across the UK and is 90% funded by government, meaning participants pay just £750.
Help to Grow: Digital is a separate scheme that lets businesses access impartial support about how digital technology can boost business performance. Qualifying businesses can also access a discount of up to 50% on the costs of buying approved software worth up to £5,000.
Tom Fox, Licensed Insolvency Practitioner at Umbrella Insolvency said: “As the economy starts to accelerate out of the coronavirus pandemic, this scheme will help businesses operate more efficiently and reshape for the future. However, in its current form there’s no question the scheme excludes some of the businesses that need help the most.”
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