Amid the chaotic pre-Christmas rush of strikes and snow, it was easy to miss the UK government’s quiet announcement of its decision to scrap its own Help to Grow: Digital scheme. In announcing the winding up of the scheme, the government said it fell short of its stated goal of ‘up to 100,000’ small businesses signing up.
Because of this lack of interest among the groups it was designed to help, BEIS says the scheme will be wound down early in 2023, with businesses able to apply for the last discounts on eligible software until 2 February 2023. Discounts issued for eligible software must be redeemed within 30 days from issue date.
By way of background, Help to Grow: Digital was originally devised as a programme for small and medium sized businesses to access free, impartial online support about how digital technology can boost their business’s performance. It is one of two Help to Grow schemes (the other focuses on Management, an initiative that remains open)
Under the terms of the scheme, eligible businesses were supposed to be able to access a discount of up to 50% towards the costs of buying approved software (including accountancy software), worth up to £5,000.
The scheme had many supporters who felt it offered a user friendly and potentially effective way of equipping small businesses in particular with vital support to digitise their systems and processes. However, the government said…
Despite a marketing campaign, expanded eligibility of the scheme and positive feedback from users of the scheme, it did not have the take up expected, with less than 1,000 vouchers redeemed by SMEs.
The outcome isn’t entirely unexpected. Several commentators did express concerns over how the scheme was designed and implemented. First, some felt the eligibility criteria were too restrictive, and the software product range too narrow; consequently there was a genuine concern that the scheme would be seriously undersubscribed among the smaller firms it was intended to help
The second concern was around the scheme’s promotion among the business community. Many felt that even if the eligibility criteria were revised, by not promoting Help to Grow: Digital in the right way, then it ran the risk of falling flat.
This could have had a different outcome: a look north of the border shows that it is possible to design a scheme for SMEs that garners healthy engagement and take up. Scotland’s success in helping its SMEs prepare for a digital future demonstrates not only that government can deliver effective schemes, but also that there exists a strong pent-up demand for this kind of support.
While the UK has an outstanding digital heritage and infrastructure, much more needs to be done to extend that to smaller and growing businesses. While no government scheme can help to address such a big issue all on its own, a well-designed and targeted scheme can make enormous impact. It’s just a shame that Help to Grow: Digital got so little help to grow from those designing and promoting it.
Despite the termination of Help to Grow, the UK remains a vibrant place to grow a business, and that growth can be supported by working with the right partners. At Paul Beare Ltd, we’re here for all your needs, and you can contact us for help and support in a number of areas, from tax and payroll to accounting and banking.
Details of the scheme can be found at: https://helptogrow.campaign.gov.uk