What is the Help to Grow scheme – and how do I apply?

Woman studying and writing notes

This article was updated on 13 January to show the changes to Help to Grow Digital

When he was chancellor, Rishi Sunak introduced the Help to Grow scheme to boost small businesses’ productivity after the coronavirus pandemic.

The Help to Grow scheme offers digital and management training designed to help small businesses reach their full potential.

Read on to learn more about the scheme, who’s eligible, and how to apply.

What is Help to Grow Digital?

Help to Grow Digital is closing and all applications must be completed by 2 February 2023. Discounts must then be used within 30 days of receiving them.

Help to Grow Digital offers support and discounts to help businesses make use of digital technology to boost their business.

Launched in January 2022, businesses can apply to get up to 50 per cent off approved technology for their business. This could save businesses up to £5,000 on the cost of new software.

The government says the discounted products will help businesses:

  • build customer relationships and increase sales
  • make the most of selling online
  • manage their accounts and finances digitally

Products you may be able to get a discount on include accounting software and customer relationship management software. This could help take the hassle out of things like invoicing, contract management, and service analysis.

In July 2022, the government added ecommerce software to the list. Platforms like BigCommerce, Kentico, and Shopwired are listed as approved suppliers.

The government also announced that the scheme will give businesses one-to-one advice on adopting digital technology, with this service going live in late 2022.

How do I apply?

In July 2022, the government expanded the scheme’s criteria so that businesses only need to have one employee (who isn’t the owner) to be eligible. Previously, businesses needed five employees.

Read more about Help to Grow Digital and use this online tool to find the best software solution for your business.

Help to Grow Digital is open to businesses that have:

  • between one and 249 employees and be registered at Companies House or on the Financial Conduct Authority’s Mutuals Register
  • been trading for more than 12 months
  • not bought the discounted software before

Why is Help to Grow Digital closing?

The economic turmoil in 2022 has led the government to “reviewing schemes to judge how effective they have been and if they’re worth continuing with”, a spokesperson said.

And Help to Grow Digital didn’t have the desired engagement with SMEs. Only 2,500 businesses had signed up to the scheme by May 2022, well below the government’s 30,000 target. This is why the government is choosing to close down the scheme.

But some have questioned the government’s thinking. The Federation of Small Business’s policy chair, Tina McKenzie, said: “This decision creates a vacuum in public policy tech adoption. If this is cancelled, what is the Government’s plan to boost digital productivity?”

What is Help to Grow Management?

This is a 50 hour, 12-week programme aimed at leaders who want to improve their management, strategic skills, and to drive their business forward.

Courses have been running since June 2021. The government hopes the programme will help businesses to:

  • develop a growth plan
  • improve resilience
  • learn how to innovate
  • inspire employee engagement
  • build marketing and financial strategies
  • adopt digital technologies

The programme’s taught by leading business schools across the country through a mix of online and face-to-face tuition, as well as support from a mentor.

Businesses who join the scheme also get support from a mentor and have access to an alumni network and peer-learning sessions.

There’s a cost of £750 to participants, with the remaining 90 per cent funded by the government.

Read more: Benefits of having a business mentor for your small business.

How do I apply?

Courses are open for registration and are taught at accredited business schools across the UK.

To join the programme, you must be a senior manager or key decision maker in your business.

To be eligible, your business must:

  • have been operating for more than one year
  • be based in the UK
  • have between five and 249 employees
  • not be a charity

In June 2022, the government opened up the scheme further so that businesses with between 10 and 249 employees could have two participants on the course (as opposed to just the one previously).

Plus, previous participants on the Small Business Leadership Programme can now join the scheme.

Other eligibility criteria remain the same.

The Small Business Charter has more information on course dates and university locations. The course is a mix of online and face-to-face learning, so you should choose a location you’re able to travel to.

Support to improve processes and boost productivity

The Guardian has previously reported that on output for each hour worked, the UK is lagging behind other G7 countries like the the US, France, and Japan.

This productivity gap is something that the previous chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was keen to close – and is why the government dedicated £520 million to the Help to Grow scheme.

The Treasury expects that positive results from the Help to Grow scheme could add £100 billion to the UK economy. Rishi Sunak said: “When I announced this at [last year’s] Budget I said we wanted to help businesses become more innovative, more competitive and more profitable and I am excited this programme allows them to do that.

“Help to Grow: Digital will help them to grow and flourish by adopting new technologies that are proven to improve processes and boost productivity, levelling up their digital technology and skills.”

Meanwhile Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “I want UK businesses to be primed and ready to seize all the opportunities on the horizon as we build back better from the pandemic.

“Adopting technology means higher performance, and the Help to Grow: Digital scheme is future-proofing our small businesses and putting the UK at the forefront of the worldwide digital revolution.”

Excluding many small businesses

Take up of the scheme has been slower than the government anticipated, which may be due to the strict criteria that excluded many of the UK’s small businesses.

With eligibility criteria now expanded, the government is hoping to attract smaller businesses with fewer employees. It claims that opening up Help to Grow: Digital to businesses with one employee “boosts the number of eligible businesses by 760,000 so that it now reaches up to 1.24 million.”

Previous analysis from the Labour party, as reported in the Financial Times, said the scheme as it stood before would have only reached six per cent of eligible companies.

Phil Hall, head of public affairs and public policy at the Association of Accounting Technicians, said: “We didn’t think it was sensible to exclude over 90 per cent of small businesses by requiring businesses to employ five or more staff to be eligible, and instead felt any company employing one or more individuals should be able to participate.

“Likewise, it makes sense to expand the types of software available and to provide much needed one-to-one support to maximise the chances of success.”

More useful guides for small businesses

What do you think about the Help to Grow scheme? Are you planning on registering? Let us know in the comments.

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Photograph: fizkes/stock.adobe.com

Catriona Smith and Sam Bromley

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