A business services group in the region has won a £600,000 contract to manage a £30m Government research programme which aims to benefit the North East’s SMEs.
County Durham-based BE Group will oversee The Department of Business Innovation and Skills Growth Voucher Programme which will give selected SMEs a voucher worth up to £2,000 to cover up to half the cost of securing business advice to help them grow.
The programme is to be rolled out to 20,000 businesses in the UK between now and March 2015.
Those picked must have fewer than 50 staff, have been trading for at least a year and have annual turnover or a balance sheet worth no more than £10m.
Businesses will be able to get advice on everything from raising finance and managing cash flow, to marketing, attracting and keeping customers. They will also be able to find out how to make the most of digital technology, improve leadership and management skills and deal with recruitment issues.
The programme will also involve setting up an online marketplace of approved business advice suppliers to make the scheme easier to use and to encourage competition.
BE Group along with UNW are partners in The Journal and Evening Gazette’s Let’s Grow campaign, which provides grant support to help companies investing in fixed assets or research and development.
BE Group chief executive Alastair MacColl, said: “We are delighted to have won the contract to administer this programme across the UK. Working with 20,000 businesses and their advisers is a challenge but it builds on the extensive work we have done administering grant and other business support programmes up and down the country.’’
The Growth Voucher Programme will stimulate growth among small businesses, but its main aim is to provide information on how best to help micro and small businesses.
Vouchers will be allocated randomly and those taking part will be monitored to see how they progress over the next two to three years. All the evidence will be used by the Government to assess how best to help SMEs in the future.
MacColl added: “Evidence strongly suggests businesses that use external advice are more likely to thrive and grow than those that don’t. It can increase their productivity, improve sales and maximise profits as well as improve their chances of survival. The Growth Voucher Programme will provide detailed data on just what kind of advice is most useful and how it should be targeted.’’
Enterprise and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, said: “Whether it is growth, moving into new markets or hiring more staff, there is a wealth of expertise available to small businesses. Growth Vouchers will allow us to find out scientifically what advice small businesses value.”