Business growth support simplified
2 March 2020: Rachel Underhill, Business Strategy Manager at ICAEW, explores the new offering from the government to help businesses grow.
In ICAEW’s recent Business Confidence Monitor, we saw businesses reporting positive confidence for the first time since 2018, having been at their lowest confidence since the financial crisis. It has been a turbulent time for businesses given the political and macroeconomic uncertainty, so the decisive election result has helped in part to restore some calm. Despite this, growth of investment is expected to remain low and businesses are generally not anticipating 2020 to be a year of high growth, with weak domestic sales and exports.
To this end, the government is looking to simplify all government-funded support for businesses through its new Business Support site. Focused on four key areas (set out below), the site aims to be the one-stop shop for new and established businesses looking to grow.
We have frequently heard from ICAEW members around the country that government support can be difficult to navigate, so we very much welcome the move to simplify what is available at a national level.
At a regional level the site links to the existing Growth Hubs and Local Enterprise Partnerships websites, so if you are looking for business support don’t forget to explore the local offering as well.
Finance and Business Planning
This section provides information on finance options for growth and new business, along with details on relief from business rates, R&D, capital gains roll-over and environment schemes. This means there is now one page where businesses and business advisers can, at a glance, understand what might be available to them. Keeping this up to date will need to be a priority, particularly with the upcoming budget and potential changes to things such as Entrepreneurs Relief.
There is a clear section for dealing with late payments. Awareness of the support has been a key objective for the Office of the Small Business Commissioner and integrating this in to wider business support is a positive step. We will be running a session on this topic with Paula Lovitt, Head of Small Business Payments from BEIS, at our upcoming SME conference given the significant impact it has on businesses.
Innovation and Technology
Productivity is crucial to sustainable growth and technology plays an important part in helping to improve this. The UK, which has averaged a 0.3% annual increase in productivity for the past decade, has never needed to ramp up productivity more.
This section details funding options for innovation, programmes to support technology adoption, partnership schemes for knowledge transfer and guidance on Intellectual Property. Businesses should also be aware of the regional partnerships they can make. For example, incubators and accelerators can offer programmes in which start-ups are partnered with larger businesses to help resolve business issues through innovative solutions.
Leadership and Talent
We see access to skills as a primary concern for many businesses we speak to. We are currently running a national consultation on this topic, and seeking to highlight the innovative solutions businesses are employing to resolve this issue.
In this area, there are details of leadership, recruitment and apprenticeships support. The overviews of the business networks are particularly helpful within this part of the website. Like with our skills consultation, much of how we overcome problems is by learning from others who have overcome the same or similar issue.
Given the government’s push for more businesses to export, it is no surprise that exporting support rounds off the four key areas. Currently, 90% of British firms do not export, so it is particularly welcome that there is a section on doing business online. E-commerce helps to break down barriers to export for SMEs, which in turn will help add resilience to these businesses.
Of course there is currently ambiguity on what certain trade relationships will look like. Until this is clarified, there will be many businesses that won’t consider exporting. It is helpful nonetheless for them to think about how they might go about this once the trade arrangements are in place.
Business advisers - including lawyers, corporate finance professionals and, of course, chartered accountants - will remain crucial in supporting businesses to grow. This resource will help to upskill entrepreneurs and SMEs on the options available to them while working with these business advisers. Tackling these four key business challenges on all fronts, from private sector through to government, will help drive economic and productivity growth towards a world of sustainable economies.