Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) has given evidence to this week’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee on the government’s Help to Grow schemes.
The Help to Grow: Management and Help to Grow: Digital schemes, which were announced by the chancellor in the March 2021 Budget and launched in May 2021 and January 2022 respectively, aim to support small businesses to adopt digital skills and improve productivity and innovation.
AAT said that despite there being 30,000 places available on the Help to Grow: Management scheme, the government are not being forthcoming with take-up figures, committing only to share data later in the year. However, it said “there are concerns” that take-up remains low, risking both schemes being withdrawn.
Earlier this year, AAT wrote to Paul Scully MP, minister for Small Business, Labour and Consumer Markets, calling for changes to the Help to Grow: Management scheme to increase uptake.
AAT’s suggestions included allowing more than one person per company to participate, lowering the minimum number of employees required to participate from five to one, and opening the scheme to businesses that took part in the Small Business Leadership Programme and to charities.
AAT also contacted Paul Scully MP and Lord Callahan alongside four other organisations recommending changes to the Help to Grow: Digital scheme, such as widening the range of providers and software types available, expanding the vendor cohort to include resellers and partner networks, and increasing the range of costs covered by the scheme.
Giving evidence to the Select Committee, Adam Harper, director of Professional Standards and Policy, AAT, said: “AAT licensed members provide support to over 500,000 small businesses, so we understand the need for the Help to Grow Schemes and are enthusiastic about the benefits they can deliver – not only to SMEs and their customers, but also to the economy at large.
“However, we are concerned over the government’s refusal to address the restrictive eligibility criteria and a lack of alignment for available software, meaning this is likely to be a missed opportunity and end up under-delivering despite best intentions.”
He added: “With many small businesses still struggling due to the impact of the pandemic, they cannot afford to be left behind in the UK’s recovery – which makes increasing access to schemes such as Help to Grow even more vital.”