By Jonathan Davies

The Labour party has criticised the government over what it describes as the 'failure' of the Growth Vouchers scheme.

The £30 million government scheme was designed to help small businesses pay for expert advice. Ministers had hoped that 20,000 businesses would take up the Growth Vouchers, but just 7,000 received support totaling £3.6m - just over 10% of the total budget.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Ummuna criticised poor marketing and a confusing number of government initiatives for its failure.

Mr Ummuna said: “It appears that not nearly enough was done by BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) to promote and back the scheme, and as a result it has ended up being yet another abject failure, like so many other programmes designed to support small business which we’ve seen from this government.”

When the Growth Vouchers scheme was launched in January 2014, BIS said: “This £30m programme will provide an immediate cash injection of up to £2,000 for eligible small businesses to gain professional business advice in areas such as marketing, recruitment and finance.” Business groups said the scheme was little understood by small firms, which found the government scheme “overly vague or too complex to access”.

Reacting to the suggestion that the scheme was a failure, John Allan, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “There’s obviously been a disappointing takeup and use of the growth voucher scheme. Too many businesses have poor awareness of what business support is out there, and those that do find it overly vague or too complex to access.

“While we have recently seen welcome progress on providing a more coherent offer at the national level through the Business Growth Service, there remains some way to go before we see a fully integrated and small-business-friendly service. The poor takeup and use of the growth voucher scheme is just one example of this.”