A larger number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be eligible for the government’s Help to Grow scheme, widening the number of users that could turn to the channel for increased digital support.
The original plans for the scheme, announced in the Budget back in March 2021, were based on the idea that 130,000 SMEs would be given access to Help to Grow, gaining access to digital and management tools needed to innovate, grow and help drive recovery. The funding was set at £520m.
But there have been calls from a number of business groups, including the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), ACCA, Coadec, the Forum for Private Business and the Entrepreneurs Network, for the government to make changes.
Those demands were for a lowering of the eligibility threshold so that companies that employed fewer than five staff could apply, and to expand the range of software available. There were also calls for broadening the support available for those that obtained money through the scheme, including more training.
Phil Hall, head of public affairs and public policy at AAT, which has been the driving force behind getting the changes accepted, said his organisation had always supported the scheme but wanted it to give more SMEs the chance to take advantage of the latest digital tools.
“AAT has always supported the ambition and objectives of this scheme because we recognise that many small and medium-sized businesses would greatly benefit from adopting new technology,” he said. “However, we didn’t think it was sensible to exclude over 90% of small businesses by requiring businesses to employ five or more staff to be eligible, and instead felt any company employing one or more individuals should be able to participate.
“Likewise, it makes sense to expand the types of software available and to provide much needed one-to-one support to maximise the chances of success.”
Other groups have also welcomed the changes to Help to Grow, with Antony Walker, TechUK’s deputy CEO, pointing out the importance of enabling a wider adoption of technology.
“Help to Grow: Digital has proven to be an important addition to the government’s support for UK businesses, with the potential to deliver real productivity change by supporting SMEs in adopting productivity-enhancing technologies such as CRM [customer relationship management], accounting, and now e-commerce,” he said.
“TechUK and our members welcome the announcement that now more SMEs will be able to reap the benefits of the scheme by lowering the eligibility criteria to include companies with fewer than five employees. These changes are certainly a step in the right direction towards meeting the goal of supporting 100,000 small businesses adopting technology that will empower them to succeed in a highly competitive and digitised world.”