Government Launches £30m Growth Vouchers programme for SMEs

The programme will offer advice and guidance to the businesses taking part and will see subsidies of up to £2,000 being offered to many via a newly-created  marketplace.  It will then monitor their performance over the coming years in order to assess the impact that advice has had.

The single platform, developed and run by small business network Enterprise Nation, will make it much easier for businesses to find providers of strategic advice on key topics such as financial management, recruitment, leadership skills, sales and marketing, and digital technology.

Aimed at businesses that have never sought business advice before, the programme is the largest business research project ever initiated by government and will gather comprehensive evidence on which to build future policy.

Enterprise and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Access to high-quality business advice at the right time can make the difference for small business owners aiming to realise their ambitions. Whether it is growth, moving into new markets or hiring more staff, there is a wealth of expertise available to small businesses.  Growth Vouchers will allow us to find out scientifically what advice small businesses value, and to shape government advice in the future according to business need.”

The programme is being run as a randomised control trial (RCT) by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team. RCTs are widely regarded as a gold standard for empirical research. This is the first time an RCT has been run on this scale and aims to find out what sort of business advice is most effective for government to support.

The programme will focus on five different themes of advice which small businesses have said they need help with. These are:

  • Improving leadership and management;
  • Making the most of digital technology;
  • Managing cashflow, late payments and negotiating finance;
  • Marketing, attracting and keeping customers;
  • Developing skills and taking on staff.

Businesses that have been running for a year, with fewer than 50 employees, and have not paid for strategic external advice in the past three years will be able to apply. They will go through a process which will help them identify what sort of advice they might benefit from. A marketplace for business advice where participants will then be able to find a qualified adviser, has been developed by Enterprise Nation.

Emma Jones MBE, founder of Enterprise Nation and co-founder of national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain said: “This is an exciting initiative which could help accelerate the growth of thousands of small businesses at a critical stage of development – helping them to build long-term sustainability. At the moment, access to business advice is sporadic and highly variable with no means available to help businesses differentiate the good from bad. We want to address this by building a service that establishes suppliers’ credentials to offer advice from the outset and then continually seeks feedback on the quality of those services for everyone to see.”

The new marketplace was built without any public sector funding and will be free for small business to use.  That funding was supplied by technology specialist Toshiba, co-working expert Regus, cloud-based collaboration and data sharing software provider Citrix, telecoms brand Vodafone, cloud-based accounts, easy online accounts and payroll software provider Sage One, email marketing campaign brand Constant Contact, insurance group Simply Business and EDF Energy which are showing their support for small businesses by backing the initiative.

It is also supported by professional bodies including the ACCA, ICAEW, BCS, CIPD, CMI and the CIM.

The scheme comes in the context of record numbers of start-up businesses across the UK, with more 526,446 registered in 2013.

The Growth Vouchers programme will run from January 2014 until March 2015. Find it[ilink url=””]here[/ilink] .