By Marcus Leach

A series of new measures to help Britain’s small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) grow and create jobs, export to new markets, secure finance and cut red tape has been launched today (Thursday) by the Prime Minister.

The measures include a £95 million investment from the Regional Growth Fund to benefit hundreds of small businesses. The funding will support SMEs considering investing in new capital assets and is expected to create at least 4,000 jobs and unlock around £500 million of new investment.

The Government is also teaming up with founding Dragons’ Den panellist Doug Richard and Yell to get 3,500 businesses into workshops all over the country to ensure they are able to exploit the global opportunities offered by the internet.

There is also a series of commitments from banks and business advisers to fuel business growth, including: Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) partnering with Barclays to provide free finance advice for SMEs; Lloyds launching a network of export mentors and Santander organising trade missions to Brazil.

The Prime Minister announced the business growth package at the ‘Exporting for Growth’ conference at the London Imax. The conference brought together SMEs, banks, business advisers and trade bodies to encourage more businesses to export, and ensure that they have the finance they need to grow.

“British SMEs are already doing incredible things, but we urgently need more of them to follow that boldness. We need this to be a country where more people think ‘I can start my own business and I can sell to the world," Prime Minister David Cameron said.

“Our determination is to come through these difficult times stronger, to trade our way to growth and jobs. We need to show real optimism about the future, and we need to show real aggression about pursuing Britain’s interests in the world. The markets are there to be tapped; the deals are there to be done, the opportunities are there to be capitalised on. Now together we must seize them.”

Business Secretary Vince Cable confirmed that the government's main priority is to return to the country's economy to growth.

“Securing a return to long-term economic growth is the Government’s highest priority. Helping entrepreneurs export to new markets and get access to the finance they need are critical to making this a reality," he said.

“Today, not only are we able to announce substantial new measures to support businesses, but also to see the commitment of private sector firms and organisations to tackling the economic challenges we face. We want to reach and help the 80 per cent of SMEs who don’t seek external advice before applying for finance.

“The small firms of today are Britain’s international success stories of our future and it is this success that will build the strong, balanced economy that will secure our economic prosperity.”

The Government announced today that:

- £95 million of new Regional Growth Fund money has been allocated for SMEs who can’t access commercial funding. This is being directed to small businesses through RBS, Natwest and HSBC — and it is expected to unlock a further £500 million of investment. The fund uses the high street banks to provide finance for SMEs seeking to purchase assets and create employment, which are unable to secure commercial funding for their project;

- From April 1st ‘one-click registration’ will go live, so that businesses can get online, register their business at Companies House, sign up for PAYE registration, Corporation Tax and Self Assessment all in one place. The ability to register for VAT will be added shortly after;

- Launching the Web Fuelled Business initiative - the Department for Business is teaming up with founding Dragons’ Den panellist Doug Richard and Yell to get 3,500 businesses into workshops all over the country to ensure they are able to exploit the global opportunities offered by the internet;

- Launching the National Export Challenge; a series of initiatives to give SMEs the knowledge they need to make the first steps to breaking into new markets. The national challenge will get business intermediaries to provide sector knowledge and support for SMEs;

- Launching the ‘Open to Export’ web resource providing small businesses with professional export advice, hosted by Yell and the British Chambers of Commerce to allow UK firms to swap information and experiences directly;

- Launching a new campaign promoting different sources of finance to SMEs and giving them the tools and advice to access the finance they need, including advice and best-practice guidance for SMEs and a new Finance Finder tool on the BusinessLink website;

- A new UKTI prize for the best export idea. This prize will run regionally and nationally;

- A new “how to” export guide which professional services companies can use with their own branding to issue in branches, to memberships and customers;

- Promoting British business to the many journalists and international business people passing through London during the Olympic Games by establishing the new British Business Embassy, based at Lancaster House. It is estimated this will achieve £700m in export sales as a result of games-time activity; and

- To support the growth of businesses in Tech City the Prime Minister announced the expansion of the Red Tape Challenge so that entrepreneurs and investors can tell the Government where rules and regulations get in the way of innovation.

Business organisations today announced their support for SMEs:

- The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is launching a partnership with Barclays to provide free finance advice for SMEs on their website;

- ICAEW’s new Business Advice Service will offer free advice sessions in over 2,400 locations across the country, on topics from finding finance, dealing with regulation and export planning;

- The Law Society will work with its members to produce guides to international business aimed at SME firms new to exporting, explaining key legal issues such as employment law, international contract law, and tax;

- PWC will launch a guide to exporting; and,

- BIS and Intuit will deliver a new financial skills programme to give SMEs the advice and guidance they need to access and manage finance.

Banks are helping by:

- Launching the HSBC Business Thinking programme for 2011-12, including financial support for appropriate businesses; supported overseas trade mission; and mentoring;

- Barclays business banking managers will work with UKTI and ECGD on how they can support their clients. Barclays has an extensive commercial banking network in sub-Saharan Africa. UKTI will work with them to develop business clubs in the UK, and they will use their branch network to develop business clubs in the African countries where they have a presence;

- Lloyds to launch a pilot programme developing a network of export mentors, in partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Association;

- Santander are organising trade missions to Brazil — 10 companies visiting this week, 50 more next year; and,

- RBS are supporting the next wave of Asia Task Force activity. The Asia Task Force is chaired by the Business Secretary, and Lord Powell of Bayswater. Its aim is to bring together experts from industry, education and government to focus on boosting British exports to, and investment in, Asian countries.

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