18/03/2014

By Scott Brown, Accounting MD at Sable Group, an approved advisor in the Growth Vouchers scheme

The Growth Vouchers programme was announced by George Osborne in last year’s budget and the £30million business incentive scheme launched in January 2014. The big idea, as the name suggests, is to get serious about small business growth. The vouchers are available to UK SMEs investing in strategic growth advice, whether that be help with money management, marketing or staff training. In reality the funds represent a subsidy rather than a grant. That’s because a business can apply for a Growth Voucher to match its own investment up to a maximum of £2,000. So as a small business you can invest in marketing help worth £1,000 and pay only £500, with your Growth Voucher making up the rest; or if you receive strategic accounting advice to the value of £5,000, a Growth Voucher could represent a £2,000 discount.

In essence the scheme is a test to help the government find out what works best to promote growth. Understandably, there are plenty of willing volunteers – here are some pointers to help your business get involved in the scheme and benefit from a growth-boosting cash injection.

What can you spend your Growth Voucher on?
The government has committed to matching your spend on growth advice in the following categories:

• Raising finance and cashflow management
• Recruiting and developing staff
• Leadership and management training
• Marketing, business development and customer loyalty
• Digital technology

Who qualifies?
There are conditions, of course, so to check your eligibility, ask yourself the following questions:

• Does my business have fewer than 50 employees?
• Is my business registered in England?
• Have we been trading for at least one year?
• Have we not paid for any business advice in the last 3 years?
• Are we independently owned, with no more than 25% owned by other businesses or organisations?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions then you most likely qualify to apply. The first step in securing a voucher is to visit Gov.uk and begin the application process, during which you’ll check your eligibility, give some information about your business and receive guidance on what growth services you could benefit from. You may also have the chance to meet with an advisor in person. After this stage is complete, you’ll soon be informed whether or not you’ve secured a voucher.

Where can you spend it?
With your voucher in hand, you now need to claim it. To ensure you don’t waste your time (or an advisor’s) find out which companies are recognised as official suppliers by the scheme. You can search the database of registered partners on the Enterprise Nation Marketplace website. Approach the supplier for a consultation and they’ll guide you from there, and afterwards you can claim the value of your voucher back from the government pot.

A growth golden ticket?
The Growth Voucher scheme is an excellent initiative, but it’s not for everyone. The funds are limited (ultimately about 20,000 businesses will win a share of the money), but the scheme is also selective in principle: it’s for businesses that are serious about growth and already looking for the right strategic advice. It’s not just an easy way of paying for professional services; it’s a helping hand to support determined businesses on their growth path.