Small businesses in Bristol have another avenue to get some much needed help in their recovery from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is spearheading the launch of the £520 million Help to Grow scheme, wherein up to 130,000 small and medium-sized businesses are granted access to some resources of the country’s leading business schools.

“Our brilliant SMEs are the backbone of our economy, creating jobs and generating prosperity, so it’s vital they can access the tools they need to succeed,” he said.

“Help to Grow will ensure they are embracing the latest technology and management training, fuelling our plan for jobs by boosting productivity in all corners of the UK,” Sunak added.

Management training and technologies

Under the initiative, SMEs can get high-level management training and expert technology advice from participating schools, which will provide 50 hours of tuition with a 1-to-1 business mentorship. Advice to improve companies’ digital capabilities will be offered through an online platform created for the scheme and will be free of charge.

According to a productivity study conducted by the Office for National Statistics, even the slightest increase in management training can lead to a productivity boost of 9.6%.

The Help to Grow scheme also lets small businesses apply for £5,000 vouchers to pay for government-approved productivity software at a 50% discount. 

The Treasury said that by using digital solutions such as CRM software, businesses can increase sales by around 18% per employee over three years.

Debts and redundancies

Help to Grow was announced alongside the extension of furlough to September and financial support to 600,000 more self-employed people during Sunak’s Budget 2021 speech. These moves from the Treasury come at a time when small and medium-sized businesses are expected to face even more economic hardship in 2021.

Software firm Sage conducted a survey with SMEs on their financial outlook amid present circumstances brought on by the novel coronavirus. 

Results showed that half of SMEs took some form of COVID-19 related loan, and now face an average of £173,000 of additional debt per year. Only 63% are confident they can settle.

Half of businesses that were profitable pre-pandemic are now not profitable. A fifth have already made redundancies, and 25% more expect layoffs once furlough ends. Such companies expect to reduce their workforce by an average of 19%.

Two-thirds of SMEs believe they will have to make hard decisions such as halting hiring and reducing hours for some of their workers when furlough and other support schemes end. 

Hope for future growth

Even with the increased burden of debt and redundancies that SMEs across the country are anticipating, Bristol is equipped to continue weathering the storm. 

The city is home to two top universities, the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, based in Frenchay, which already have solid relationships with local businesses. It is the UK’s leading smart city, housing many tech companies and arming residents with superfast broadband internet. 

Both of Bristol’s innate advantages would go well with the Help to Grow scheme’s objective of boosting productivity via business school partnerships and business software grants.

If there is any place in the UK where the entrepreneurial spirit can rise above the challenges brought on by the pandemic, it’s Bristol, and the Help to Grow scheme can only make this endeavour easier.

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