As the party conference season kicks off, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) today proposes the introduction of a £100m Growth Voucher scheme, open to up to 20,000 small and medium-sized businesses. The vouchers worth £5,000 would be offered to businesses, and allow them to access advice to help them grow. Advice would focus on issues such as exporting, HR, access to finance, marketing, and help with the planning system. The scheme would generate activity in the domestic business services market, boosting business investment and the productivity and growth potential of small and medium-sized businesses.
Growth Vouchers would offer significant benefits not only to participating companies, but to a wide array of UK-based suppliers, particularly in the business services sector. Businesses applying for the scheme would need a demonstrable business growth plan. Vouchers could only be spent on gaining advice, rather than to boost working capital, and would have a time-limit on their use. The £100m cost of the scheme could be found from other business support programmes, for example future rounds of the Regional Growth Fund.
Advice could be focused on the following areas:
Legal, HR, accounting advice: As businesses expand, accounting and HR systems become more complex, and small businesses in particular can struggle to make sense of employment law and tax systems. Advice would help businesses understand these complex functions, allowing them to be more efficient, and focus on growth.
Access to finance advice: Smaller, younger, and high-growth businesses often have more difficulty accessing finance than more established firms, and some are unaware of the options available outside traditional debt finance. Advice could also address the problem of discouraged demand, and may result in more businesses obtaining finance to boost investment plans.
Marketing advice and training: Helping businesses with marketing their products and services here and importantly in overseas markets could lead to more sales, and growth opportunities for many firms.
Planning support: The complexity of the planning system means many businesses need to hire in external consultants at a high cost. The costs will often put firms off expansion, so offering companies free advice would help motivate businesses to grow and expand their premises.
Staff training: Workforce skills consistently rank among the top three concerns among Chamber members across the country. As businesses expand and develop their goods and services, increased staff training is often needed to help firms grow.
Announcing the proposal, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:
Export advice: Urgent action is needed to support the UK’s potential and current exporters to help rebalance the UK economy towards exports. Many businesses do not have the advice or skills they need to break into new markets. Export training and access to market intelligence and trade shows and missions, could help many businesses take the first step to exporting, and open new markets for current exporters.
“Businesses across the country are looking to the government to give the economy the boost it needs. A Growth Voucher scheme, targeted at those businesses with clear plans to expand, could help to increase productivity, business investment and growth. Government-led schemes have previously focused on pushing out what Whitehall thinks is the answer to businesses’ problems, rather than what businesses themselves say they need. This proposed scheme is based on evidence from our members, who tell us that help with the planning system, advice on access to finance and exporting, training staff, and marketing, HR and accounting support, would help them grow. 'It's time for the government to make sure support gets to the front line quickly, and prompts more companies to invest and take risk. Boosting business growth and investment through a voucher scheme would stimulate swift business investment, which in turn can lead to growth in the months and years ahead.”