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Even in this era of state austerity, there's a considerable amount of government help aimed at businesses. But the landscape is always shifting.
For those starting or growing a business, it’s important to navigate the available support with confidence. So, with the new year resolve of our readership in mind, below are some sources of government assistance that could help in 2017.
The government has also worked hard at consolidating its support and making it more navigable. The Business is Great site aggregates support, advice and inspiration for growing businesses, and collects together the available finance and support schemes on a finder page with filtering capabilities. It’s a decent place to start your searches.
So what’s out there today? Here’s our rundown:
Today, most national and local grants focus on particular business activities or purposes.
There are some grants for investment, some addressing energy use and the environment, some geared towards training and some in the form of tax reliefs like R&D tax credits.
It’s not quite the landscape it was for grants, with programmes like Growth Vouchers having been wound up in 2015, not to mention the closure of the Business Growth Service in early 2016, but there is still plenty of support available.
Let’s go through the grant options:
There are regional grants (partly through the Regional Growth Fund programmes) 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.
Local support (eg. subsidised rent and rates) is also often available to encourage small businesses to start up in particular areas.
There are many grant schemes that encourage research and development (R&D) activities in the UK's high-tech industries. Support is available for investigating an idea right through to proof of concept and development. R&D grants that focus on specific industries are launched from time to time, and there are well-established tax reliefs that support a wide range of R&D activities.
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, and currently the offer is being promoted through the government’s Get in, go far site on apprenticeships.
Tax reliefs If nothing in the government offer quite fits with your business, don’t despair. The government, as mentioned briefly already, offers support through tax schemes such as R&D Tax Credits and other capital allowances to reduce tax liabilities.
The second broad area to focus on is the Business Support Helpline, which remains a notable element of the government’s business support provision.
It provides signposting, diagnostic support and business improvement advice to pre-starts, startups, 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 support (this is something that has grown in importance with the establishment in 2011 of Local Enterprise Partnerships and the LEP Network).
The helpline is also useful for signposting and explanation on how to use the finder page with filtering mentioned already.
The next resource to flag is the GOV.UK website. This 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 database, the website also has information on:
In recent years a lot of government support programmes have closed. The likes of GrowthAccelerator and the Business Growth Service are no more, and with the closure of the Growth Service we’ve also lost subsidised resources like the Manufacturing Advisory Service, though some that worked in that space have continued offering their services on commercial terms.
What does that leave?
Mentors ME is one resource that is going strong. It provides access to 15,000 trained volunteer business mentors, from the SME community to boost local mentor networks.
The Department for International Trade has recently taken over as the government’s overseas trade support service. For many years this was familiar to people as UK Trade & Investment. It provides advice on export capability and opportunities, contacts in overseas markets, arranging overseas visits, ecommerce, export training and market research. All in all, it’s still a strong resource for any would-be exporter or international trader.
Innovate UK is the latest name for what was the Technology Strategy Board. It 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 (eg. the Smart Programme and Innovation Vouchers). It also supports networks to connect partners to promote knowledge sharing.
The Design Council’s Designing Demand Programme is a small national programme that helps SMEs use design to improve performance through bespoke packages of design support and coaching delivering through design associates.
The Intellectual Property Office provides resources and support to protect intellectual property. It 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.
The fifth resource-set to flag is the British Business Bank. This is a relatively new government initiative. Its website has easy-to-understand information on all types of finance and their relative advantages and disadvantages.
The aim is to make finance markets work better for small businesses in the UK at all stages of their development: starting up, scaling up and staying ahead.
The British Business Bank is government owned but independently managed. It brings expertise and government money to the smaller business finance markets. It doesn’t lend or invest directly. Instead it works with over 80 partners such as banks, leasing companies, venture capital funds and web-based platforms.
Businesses apply for finance through partner businesses, and because the businesses work with the initiative they can lend and invest more, especially to younger and faster-growing companies.
Last but not least we come to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which have grown in importance with the government’s evolving localism agenda.
LEPs have been running since 2011. These 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 now supplemented by Growth Hubs affiliated to all the LEPs. These provide 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 and university business schools, other private sector bodies (including local partners delivering national programmes) and national government.
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