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The government-administered superfast broadband connection scheme for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has now handed out more than 25,000 grants of up to £3,000 each around the UK.
The connection voucher scheme is administered by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and has £40m worth of funding available in the current financial year. The programme is open to eligible small businesses in 50 cities on a first-come, first-served basis, allowing them to apply for grants of up to £3,000 to cover the costs of installing superfast broadband.
Although it got off to a slow start, a publicity campaign in 2014 piqued a great deal of interest. The scheme has since taken off, with a huge variety of businesses – including cafés, graphic designers, architects, estate agents, mechanics, events co-ordinators and caterers – taking up the offer.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said that, as of the end of May, the scheme has proved most popular in London and the north-west of England, with north-east England and East Anglia seeing the lowest levels of take-up.
Leeds-Bradford, London and Manchester saw the most active number of participants in the scheme, while Dundee, Inverness and Southend-on-Sea saw the lowest levels of take-up – just five vouchers have been issued in Dundee – although those cities were late entrants to the scheme.
“The government’s broadband connection voucher scheme is proving tremendously popular and we are now issuing around 1,000 vouchers every week,” said digital economy minister Ed Vaizey.
“Businesses need to be properly equipped for all the challenges of the digital world in which we live, and I urge all eligible businesses to apply as soon as possible to make sure they don’t miss out on the fantastic offer,” he added.
Read more about superfast broadband
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But Darren Shenkin, business development director at fibre supplier Hyperoptic, said the voucher scheme did not go far enough.
“It is a great initiative, but 25,000 businesses is just the tip of the iceberg. Removing upfront broadband installation costs could benefit so many more SMEs all across the UK. DCMS needs to put more money into the pot to extend the scheme and stimulate the digital economy,” said Shenkin.
The voucher scheme is open to companies with fewer than 250 employees and a turnover no greater than £42.4m a year, or a balance sheet of no more than £36.5m.