Businesses have less than two months to apply for the Help to Grow: Digital scheme, the government has announced, following a decision to close the programme.
The programme will close to new business applications for discounts on 2 February 2023. Discounts issued for eligible software must be redeemed within 30 days from issue date.
The scheme has supported businesses to grow, but with take-up lower than expected, the government cannot justify the continued cost of the scheme to the taxpayer. The decision has been taken to refocus efforts towards other support mechanisms for small businesses, ensuring businesses get the backing they need in the most efficient and productive way possible.
The Help to Grow Digital programme was designed to give 100,000 SMEs free and impartial advice on how technology can help their business and vouchers worth up to £5,000 to cover up to 50% of the costs of buying pre-approved software.
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 one thousand vouchers redeemed by SMEs.
The government continues to support small businesses, such as through Help to Grow: Management and the government-backed British Business Bank’s Start Up Loans, which are available to help aspiring entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.
Small businesses have also benefited from the Energy Bill Relief Scheme which provides non-domestic customers with a discount on their gas and electricity bills in light of the rise in global energy prices.
As part of the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor also announced a package of changes and tax cuts worth £13.6 billion over the next five years. The package contains new measures to reduce the burden of business rates on firms, including a freeze in the multiplier, extended and increased relief for high street businesses, an exchequer funded transitional relief scheme, and targeted support for small businesses.
Commenting on the news, Federation of Small Business Policy Chair Tina McKenzie, said:“The Help to Grow scheme is the Government’s flagship small business productivity policy. It has barely been around for a year and although uptake is low, firms should be given the time to reap the benefits instead of having it snatched away during a time of economic crisis.
“This decision creates a vacuum in public policy tech adoption. If this is cancelled, what is the Government’s plan to boost digital productivity?
“Turning Help to Grow into Help to Slow – at Christmastime no less – is a Scrooge move. We would urge small businesses to consider if they can use the scheme before applications close on 2 February.
“The Government is already proposing downgrading the high take-up R&D tax credits which have been a lifeline to so many small firms, rolling back on its own policy successes.
“Removing the Help to Grow Digital scheme on top of that smacks of a government that is doing nothing more than carving an anti-growth legacy for itself.”