The government has disclosed the termination of the “Help to Grow: Digital” scheme, which gave funding to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to buy technology.
Firms now have less than two months to apply for funding under the Help to Grow: Digital scheme.
A statement from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the programme would close to new business applications for discounts on 2 February 2023.
The department stated that while the scheme has supported businesses to grow, take-up has been lower than expected so it has decided to focus on “other support mechanisms for small businesses”.
The programme was designed to give 100,000 SMEs vouchers worth up to £5,000 to cover up to 50% of the costs of buying pre-approved software. Fewer than 1,000 vouchers were redeemed, according to BEIS.
TechUK expressed its displeasure at the announcement, which it said meant SMEs “have, at a crucial time, lost key funding to adopt new digital technologies and boost productivity”.
The technology industry body went on to describe the decision as a “disappointing outcome”.
As a key supporter of the Help to Grow: Digital scheme, TechUK said it had worked closely with the government on the launch of the scheme, as well as providing advice.
It said this advice resulted in improvements to the scheme, which included the adoption of e-commerce software and an expansion of the eligibility threshold to access the scheme. Taken together, these meant 1.2 million SMEs became eligible for support, according to TechUK.
The IT industry body also provided evidence on the state of the scheme to the House of Commons BEIS Select Committee on 17 May 2022, with Neil Ross, associate director, policy, at Tech UK, providing testimony.
In July 2022, Antony Walker, TechUK’s deputy CEO, said: “Help to Grow: Digital has proven to be an important addition to the government’s support for UK businesses, with the potential to deliver real productivity change by supporting SMEs in adopting productivity-enhancing technologies such as CRM, accounting, and now e-commerce.
“TechUK and our members welcome the announcement that now more SMEs will be able to reap the benefits of the scheme by lowering the eligibility criteria to include companies with fewer than five employees. These changes are certainly a step in the right direction towards meeting the goal of supporting 100,000 small businesses adopting technology.”
In July 2021, when the scheme was launched, business minister Lord Callanan said the government had backed business throughout the pandemic and “is now looking to build for the future”.
He added: “Tech is fundamental to our vision of a dynamic and revitalised economy and I would like to invite IT providers to seize this fantastic opportunity to support UK SMEs with their high-quality software and help us turbocharge UK small businesses.”
When the scheme was announced in March 2021, in the Budget, by then chancellor Rishi Sunak, it was promised it would last three years.