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New AI training fund now open for applications

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 07 May 2024

Accountancy firms can now apply for a grant from a government £6.4m funding pot to help staff at small and medium sized UK businesses boost their artificial intelligence (AI) skills.

Announced in the Spring Budget, the Flexible AI Upskilling Fund will enable SMEs to cover up to 50% of the cost of their employees’ AI training and firms can now apply for a grant under the scheme.

The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) scheme aims to increase AI adoption and productivity by spurring greater employer-led investment in the relevant skills.

The Department notes: “Evidence shows that a lack of AI skills in businesses is hindering AI adoption, in part due to low investment in AI upskilling in UK businesses, particularly in smaller companies.”

As such, the scheme will fund training that “supports employees to develop their technical skills and/or understanding of AI,” to be able to “develop, deploy, or use” the technology in their role.

With AI productivity a key concern, DSIT is aiming the scheme primarily at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the professional and business services sector – including accountancy, bookkeeping and audit firms. Other business types covered in that class include law firms, architectural practices and management consultancies.

Apply for a grant

To be eligible for the scheme, DSIT requires interested companies to be registered to operate in the UK, employ between one and 249 UK staff and meet the SME Action Plan’s definition of a small or medium-sized enterprise. They must also have an operating track record of at least one year and be able to match-fund 50% of the training costs.

Funding areas excluded from the scheme are:

  • purchasing AI technologies,
  • payments for business advice or consulting services related to AI,
  • recruitment activity,
  • salaries (including work placement or internship fees), and
  • capital expenditure.

The scheme opened for applications on 1 May for the pilot scheme and firms can start an application using the government’s Find a Grant service.

Companies have until 5pm on 31 May to complete there application. For those wanting more information about applying DSIT has recorded a webinar on the pilot scheme, which is available on YouTube.

Reward letters will be issued later in the summer. DSIT stresses that it is likely to provide funding to successful applicants by lottery – particularly if the process is oversubscribed. However, depending on demand, the Department may open further application windows.

The deadline for training delivery and grant fund reimbursement is 31 March 2025.

Skills to support a resilient UK

On 12 March, Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan appeared at London’s Science Museum to highlight the total £1.1bn of support for technology upskilling that the government is providing across the education system and employers. She called on eligible SMEs to register their interest in the Flexible AI Upskilling Fund.

“Building on our reforms to the skills system will require work from each and every one of us – universities, schools, and businesses,” she said. “By doubling down on our investments in skills and backing British business, we can lay the foundations for an economy fit for the future – an economy that creates jobs and improves lives for communities up and down the country. That is how we make our science and tech superpower mission a success.”

ICAEW’s Senior Policy Manager, Chris Lane, welcomed the creation of the new fund as in line with ICAEW’s vision for a resilient UK.

“In our 2024 manifesto,” he said, “we called on the next government to outline a specific AI skills plan for SMEs. This pilot scheme is a great start and something that will help many accountants and their clients. We would encourage ICAEW members to consider applying or sharing details of this opportunity with their networks.”

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