Shapps ends flagship small business digital support scheme
Grant Shapps has pulled the plug on the ‘Help to Grow: Digital programme’ following lacklustre participation and rising costs, sparking a backlash from industry bodies.
In a statement on Thursday, Shapps who currently serves as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said Government “cannot justify the continued cost” of the “Digital” programme, as participation was “lower than expected”.
Unveiled in the March 2021 Budget, the ‘Help to Grow’ campaign was part of a £520m effort consisting of a ‘Management’ and ‘Digital’ programme designed to develop the digital capabilities and business acumen of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK.
The Help to Grow: Digital programme kickstarted earlier this year, targeted 100,000 SMEs across the country, offering consultations and discounts on approved software solutions.
Programme attendees received a 50 per cent discount or up o £5,000 on software purchases as well as tailored business advice in order to boost their digital capabilities.
Now, Help to Grow: Digital applications for future discounts will close on 2 February 2023 and discounts issued for eligible software are set to be redeemed within 30 days from the date of issuance.
In response to the termination, BEIS Committee chair, Darren Jones said: “Once again, a Government designed product has failed because Ministers refused to listen to business”.
The Federation for Small Businesses chair, Tina McKenzie, said: “It has barely been around for a year. 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”.
The end of the scheme comes following interim Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi’s introduction of a Financial Services and Markets Bill in July — intended to make the UK a “leading centre for technology”.
Figures published in July by Innovate Finance suggest the UK is already a dominant player in the fintech space, with UK firms amassing £7.6bn in funding in the first half of 2022, second to the US (£20.8bn) and double the amount of Germany (£2bn) and France (£1.9bn).
However, the collapse of the programme may reduce the growth of UK fintech and SMEs by up to 10 per cent the Office of National Statistics finds.
“The decision creates a vacuum in public policy tech. Turning Help to Grow into Help to Slow – at Christmas time no less – is a Scrooge move”, McKenzie laments.
As the Help to Grow: Digital programme comes to an end, the management-focused initiative has not fared as planned either.
Intended to provide management and financial training to 30,000 SMEs, research conducted by Labour indicates that a mere 402 firms have completed the training programme – a stark contrast to Government figures that suggest 1270 business leaders have opted to undertake the programme.
„The intention of the help to grow scheme was good, and government should support business in this way, but it must do so in partnership and not with a ‘Whitehall knows best’ approach”, Jones adds.