BT today announced an unprecedented package of support to help the UK’s 5.8m small businesses get better positioned for recovery and growth following the coronavirus outbreak and as they prepare for a post-Brexit future.
Today’s launch of BT’s Small Business Support Scheme sees the company introduce a range of new measures to help small businesses boost their connectivity, cash flow and confidence – key concerns which have been identified by Small Business Britain’s recent surveys of its membership.
BT’s action plan includes a commitment to pay its 4,500 small business suppliers promptly and within 30 days of being invoiced, to helping firms fund the cost of ultrafast business connections, as well as access to free resources such as business mentoring, digital skills, marketing tools and mental health support.
Philip Jansen, chief executive, BT Group, said: “Small businesses are the beating heart of our economy, high streets and communities. They employ the majority of private sector workers in the UK, so their success is key to securing the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Small businesses deserve the support of each and every one of us to help them thrive into the future.”
BT’s Small Business Support Scheme comprises the following measures:
- Funding ultrafast business connections: BT is helping small businesses fund the cost of an ultrafast business connection (known as an Ethernet line), by subsidising the total cost by £2,500 per customer. This extends the benefits of the Government’s popular Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which closed in May, to provide further financial respite to firms like graphic design agencies and production houses who need Gigabit speeds of up to 10Gbps to send and receive rich media files.
- Launching bursaries for UK tech start-ups: BT is introducing a new bursary scheme to give 1,000 UK tech start-ups and entrepreneurs a financial head start. From October, eligible companies can apply for a bursary to benefit from free fibre broadband and mobile bundles. Further details will be announced in due course.
- Introducing BT Halo for Business: Building on the remarkable success of BT Halo for consumers, BT has launched the UK’s best converged fibre broadband, mobile and digital phone line bundle for micro-businesses, which represent 91 per cent of all businesses in the UK. By combining three powerful connections in one package, Halo helps businesses stay better connected inside and outside of the workplace, so that they never miss an important call or a sale.
- Helping small businesses to go cashless: BT is preparing to launch a new digital payments solution, to help small businesses move to cashless transactions. This is a trend which is accelerating as a result of the pandemic, with 25 per cent of small businesses increasing their use of contactless payments over the past few months. Further details will be announced in due course.
- Accelerating payment for BT’s small business suppliers: With 58 per cent of small businesses citing cash flow as their number one concern, BT is committing to pay its 4,500 small business suppliers within 30 days of being invoiced. This sees BT halving the 60-day terms stipulated by the Government’s Prompt Payment Code.
- Financial flexibility for the hardest hit: BT has been assisting small businesses in financial distress during the peak of the pandemic by helping them find a flexible option for paying their bill. This will continue over the coming months, with BT creating a dedicated team to support customers who are struggling with aspects of their bill as a result of the pandemic.
- Helping small businesses access the full power of digital and social media advertising: With 63 per cent of small businesses wanting more support around marketing and sales, BT is looking to help small firms across the UK to better promote their goods and services online. More details will be revealed in due course.
- Supporting small businesses through mentoring: BT is introducing a new mentoring scheme for small businesses, to provide them with free access to its expertise across strategy, marketing, sales, and more. BT will support businesses via Digital Boost, a free non-profit platform uniting digital experts with leaders of small businesses and Further details will be announced over the coming weeks.
- Helping small businesses acquire new digital skills: BT’s ambition is to reach 1m small business owners and their employees with digital skills by 2025, with 46 per cent expecting to increase their use of digital tools following the pandemic. BT has already helped tens of thousands of small businesses with digital skills training through its Skills for Tomorrow programme and has released new learning content on crucial topics, including how to prevent cyber-attacks and using social media to reach new customers.
- Wellbeing support: BT is acutely aware that it’s an extremely worrying and uncertain time for small businesses, so we will be providing customers with access to expertise around maintaining their wellbeing by boosting their mental and physical health. This will be delivered through a free online toolkit and webinar series specifically designed for small businesses.
Caroline Dinenage, Digital Minister, said: "Investment in digital skills combined with fast and secure internet connections will help our small and medium businesses through the pandemic.
"We are investing in programmes including Digital Boost and the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund to develop people's digital skills and have committed £5 billion to invest in gigabit connectivity to make sure the hardest-to-reach areas of the UK aren’t left behind.
"BT's new scheme is a welcome addition of support to help firms through this time."
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “BT’s commitment to supporting small businesses through these tough times will be incredibly valuable.
“The CBI has championed digital connectivity and skills as indispensable to all sectors of the economy and in every part of the UK, and this initiative focussed on support to smaller firms is particularly welcome.”
BT’s team of 40 store based, local business consultants are on hand to help small business customers access the wide range of support available. These specialist experts can provide personal advice around the best technology options for an individual business, together with digital skills support for employees.
They are joined by a network of 40 BT Local Businesses around the UK - independently owned businesses who work in partnership with BT to deliver a personal, local service to small business customers across the length and breadth of the country.
This sees BT supporting and rejuvenating the UK’s high streets, as well as levelling up the regions and devolved nations by making specialist local tech and digital skills support as accessible as possible – no matter where firms might be based.
The launch comes as a new survey conducted by Small Business Britain and BT revealed that 70 per cent of small businesses are expecting another lockdown in 2020. More than half of those surveyed (53 per cent) do not feel confident in the future of their business. On the positive side, over two thirds (64 per cent) believe the Covid-19 crisis has increased public awareness and support of small businesses, while more than half (55 per cent) view the changes they’ve made to their business to adapt to the crisis as positive.
Michelle Ovens MBE, Founder of Small Business Britain, said: “Small businesses across the UK have been central to getting the country through this pandemic, and the fact that over two thirds are feeling increasing recognition and affection from the public is testament to this. However, our data clearly shows just how tough it is out there for small businesses and it’s really important that we continue to support them through the turbulence ahead.
“BT’s new support scheme is fantastic and will undoubtedly be very helpful for many small businesses. We are seeing that those small firms which have embraced digital and developed new skills are the ones that have managed to adapt, build resilience and feel more confident as a result, so it’s important that this kind of support is a key focus area for the sector going forward.”
BT is exploring ways of adding further initiatives to its Small Business Support Scheme to bolster its support for the sector and will announce more details in due course.
 Based on Small Business Britain Survey Data from May, 2020