April 4, 2014

By Stephen Slater, Director at RMT Accountants & Business Advisors Ltd

It must always be very pleasing for those that design and manage business support schemes when they see them taking off, especially as they’re often the ones that take the brickbats if they fail to fly.

Those in the Department For Business, Innovation & Skills that have been responsible for the development of the new £30m Growth Voucher Programme must be enjoying their morning cup of tea that little bit more after seeing it hit the ground running.

Launched in February this year, the programme gives selected small and micro businesses a voucher worth up to £2,000 to cover up to half the cost of securing strategic business advice to help them grow, with an online marketplace of approved suppliers used to identify suitable firms with which these businesses can choose to work.
It is designed to test which types of advice really make a difference to business growth, and aims to make it easier for participating small businesses to see how external advice can be good for their business, before then helping them find the right private sector advice and support for their particular needs.

Qualifying businesses must have fewer than 50 employees, must have been trading for at least a year and must have an annual turnover or a balance sheet worth no more than £10m.

Participants can seek strategic advice in one of five key areas – managing cash flow and negotiating finance, developing skills and recruitment, improving management, marketing and digital technology.

Firms apply for a voucher via www.gov.uk/apply-growth-vouchers and undergo an assessment of their needs, either online or with an assessor.

Vouchers are being allocated randomly to ensure geographical and sectoral fairness, and participating businesses will be monitored to see how they progress and help BIS explore what type of advice really makes a difference.
The uptake figures for the scheme’s first month showed that 1,556 businesses across the UK had applied for vouchers, with 671, representing £1.3m of business advice, already being allocated, which seems to me like a decent start.

As a programme supplier ourselves, we’ve seen a good deal of interest from both existing and new clients in what the programme can offer.

Anything that’s going to help North East companies bring in advice that they perhaps couldn’t otherwise access is always going to be welcomed, while there’s a clear business benefit on the supplier side too, with the programme perhaps being the starting point for some new, long-term and mutually beneficial business relationships.
As the old song goes, ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’ – let’s hope there’s a lot more to come from this interesting project.


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