BY ADAM BERNSTEIN
Trade can be tough, but wouldn’t it be great if your business could be given a shot in the arm with some free – or at least low cost – help? Firms prepared to search will find that there is plenty of help available; they just need to narrow down the options and follow the processes that the programmes specify.
Of course, while there can be such a thing as‘free money, it will come with strings and criteria that must be met. By extension, this cash and help is a boon for those that successfully apply but getting through the hurdles can be both very time-consuming, difficult and without any guarantee of reaching the finishing line.
As to where the monies come, much is from the government, but local authorities as well as some private organisations have a role to play. Amounts awarded can range from three figures – say £500, to £500,000 or more. Some awards are matched – that is, those applying for the funding need to meet certain fund-raising targets of their own. But whoever said running a business or securing funding is easy?
Probing HM Government
Helpfully, the gov.uk website has a simple to use online tool, Finance and support for your business, where visitors can search nationally according to keyword (say retail, leisure), type of support (grant, equity, finance, loan, advice), stage of business (not yet trading, start-up, established), industry (service, leisure, retail), and number of employees.
There are pages of programmes that may be of interest – some are regional, and others UK-wide. For example, there are a number of business start-up grant or support schemes such as that in Mansfield that offers £1000 to spend on equipment, office furniture, shop fittings and marketing, as well as an advice service from Tewkesbury Borough Council that handholds applicants as they navigate the maze of grants.
Enterprise finance is available from a number of sources. Take the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Enterprise Answers programme for the North of England. Available to firms with up to 249 employees it offers “affordable” business loans from £5000 to £100,000 if the business is based in Cumbria, Northumbria, County Durham, or North Lancashire.
Matching grants are available from Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Grants for Growth. It offers capital and revenue grants of between £10,000 to £250,000 with a variable help rate of 10% to 30% which must be matched by private sector or other equity funds. The scheme requires project costs to be for a minimum of £40,000 to qualify for a grant payment of £10,000.
And for firms specifically involved in tourism, there’s Tourism business support in Staffordshire which offers coaching, workshops, webinars and masterclasses to businesses with less than 249 employees in the Staffordshire area. There’s also Tourism grants – Eden; help in the form of small grants of up to £500 for projects that aim to generate tourism and help the Eden economy available from Eden District Council.
For those over 18 wanting to start their own business the government offers mentoring and a grant via the New Enterprise Allowance. A business plan needs to be in place before applicants receive an allowance of £1274 spread over 26 weeks; they’re also eligible to apply for a loan to cover start-up costs.
For many firms, being in the digital slow lane is akin to commercial suicide – they cannot compete with online businesses or just fundamentally cannot work efficiently. Those here may be able to take advantage of the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme from BEIS. Also, for firms with less than 250 employees, upto £3000 is available towards the cost of getting not just superfast broadband, but gigabit broadband which is infinitely faster.
If low carbon and energy efficiency is of interest, there are a number of regional programmes to apply to such as that offered by Low Carbon Workspaces in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and the Black Country that will offer you money. This particular programme – backed by the European Regional Development Fund – offers between £1000 and £5000 to cover a third of the costs of a project that reduces energy consumption, waste, water and vehicle fuel costs.
More help can be found by searching generally on the homepage of gov.uk site and selecting the relevant organisation (most likely the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy).
Firms wanting to show their eco-values while saving on motoring costs can use a special scheme. Set up by the government to push businesses towards electric vehicles used for commercial purposes, the Plug-in Van Grant Scheme offers business owners a 20% saving off the purchase price off a van. Buyers of heavier trucks in the N2 and N3 class (3.5 tonnes or more) have also, since October 2016, been granted 20% off the initial purchase price, also subsided by the government. To meet scheme eligibility requirements, vehicles will have to meet necessary commercial vehicle performance criteria on the range, safety and ultra-low tailpipe emissions.
Businesses looking to take on someone with a view to teaching them a trade or skill should consider Apprenticeship funding. Set over a one to five-year period, apprenticeships are designed to meld practical training with job-based learning. Funding is covered for those who don’t pay the Apprenticeship Levy (because their pay bill is below £3m a year) - 10% of the cost is borne by the employer with the other 90% paid for by the government.
It’s also worth searching on the web for third party sources of SME help. Take that offered by courier firm FedEx, since 2016 the company has offered the FedEx Small Business Grant to firms with less than 100 staff which have been established for at least two years. The 2018 programme hasn’t yet (at the time of writing) been announced but in 2017 it awarded £20,000 as a first prize.
For the entrepreneur aged 18-30, there is a low interest loan (and small grants in special circumstances) and mentoring help from the Princes Trust. In a similar vein, the trust’s Prince’s Countryside Fund offers more than £1m each year in grants of up to £50,000 to projects that seek to benefit individuals and their rural communities. The funding has closed for 2018 but keep an eye out for the 2019 round from September 2018.
Shops wanting to improve their outward appearance may be able to get funding and grants from their local authority. Ulverston, for example, is offering up to £400 or up to 40% of the total costs in their conservation area – and the money can be used for painting, repairs and signage. There are plenty more examples of this type grant throughout the UK.
Look also to the regional governments
But as well as looking at the UK government website, businesses looking for assistance should not ignore what is available from the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments; a good deal from any one of these might be enough to lead to relocation. Wales, for example, has more than 1200 finance programmes (including three that directly apply to tourism) on its Business Wales finance locator website and Northern Ireland lists 162 business schemes on nibusinessinfo. co.uk. Scotland takes a different approach and just hot-links to gov.uk while giving also links to Better Business Finance and the Scottish EU Funding Portal.
A different view
Getting money and help without cost is one side of the equation, another is creating interest from investors. Firms looking for equity or cash injection from business angels can utilise various tax regimes to lower the cost of any investments made by investors.
There are two main programmes worth consideration – the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme. Designed to encourage investment in UK companies, investors can claim eligible investments against their tax bill, significantly reducing capital risk.
In a similar vein, is the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). This is tax relief scheme for investment in more established companies. With EIS, investors can claim up to 30% back in tax on investments of up to £1m. Investors can also defer capital gains tax on investment shares and after holding investments for three years they become free from capital gains tax.
The detail for both is on HMRCs website.
There are as many sources of grants as there are leaves on a tree and there just simply is not enough space here to note them down. The lesson here is very simple – just search! The web is a very powerful tool which has made the process so much easier, but it’s important to remember to broaden your horizons when searching – look beyond government and into the local area and third-party private organisations. If you don’t seek assistance your rivals just might.