Why killing the Growth Accelerator programme was a big mistake

By axing the programme offering grants for much-needed professional advice, the government has slammed the brakes on growth, argues Helen Roberts

It’s not just that the government has axed a programme that after four years was just starting to be workable. And it’s not just that they gave notice to several hundred people just before Christmas without any real indication of what the wind down programme for the individuals would be. And it’s not even that they have let down a whole load of small businesses that have wasted valuable time working through the tedious and cumbersome application process.

For me, the closure of the Growth Accelerator scheme is hypocrisy – the government talk about wanting to grow the economy, the support for small entrepreneurial businesses and then they go and close a scheme that was designed specifically to do that.

So for those who don’t know, last December the government decided to close the Growth Accelerator Scheme – which has given subsidised professional advice to 18,000 small companies with an approval rating of 94%.

The Growth Accelerator scheme seemed just to have reached a point where the growth managers (well positioned within private partnership organisations) who are in charge of making judgements about where the grant should go, were the right people with the right contacts; the administration was about to become a little more practical (if still very slow) and businesses that would benefit were just starting to hear about the opportunity despite the lack of advertising required by the Europeans.

Left in the lurch

And then it was how they did it – virtually no notice to the partnership private companies who have supported the scheme and who employ the growth managers and administrators. There seemed to be no real explanation or thought of how the wind up would happen, leading to a couple of weeks of confusion and the social difficulty of pressuring people for answers when you know they have just been made redundant….probably.

For the companies and professional advisers in the middle of the application process there was several hours’ worth of wasted time and disappointment, replicated many times across the scheme.  And personally I’m worried that the several thousand of pounds due to me for work done several months ago will not get made or will be delayed (but maybe I’m just being pessimistic).

So the biggest issue is that government spent four years developing and growing something that was just starting to work only to tear it down.

What a waste of money, because you can bet your bottom dollar in two or three years some government bright spark somewhere will say ‘why don’t we stimulate growth by giving small businesses the opportunity to buy in much needed professional advice at a discount’ and we’ll start all over again.

Where now for grants?

If the government really wants to know how to save money in this time of austerity (and I do agree we need to keep our belts very tight), then they should come out and see the small businesses that the scheme did help, who think that paying £1,500 up front for services is a big commitment; who literally watch every penny to make their dreams come true and who wouldn’t understand how a project that had been running for several years would suddenly be found to be unproductive.

By the way for those organisations still looking for funding, the government tried to smooth the waters by saying that they will be giving £12m per annum to businesses via the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

I started a grant application for one of my client just before Christmas and am slowly jumping through the hoops – go online, find your nearest one and patiently start applying – only you won’t be able to get a grant for professional advice, you’ll have to buy a piece of equipment.

Helen Roberts works for Chartered Accountants and tax advisory firm Winburn Glass Norfolk (WGN) as an adviser to start-ups and small and mid-sized companies; mainly in Yorkshire. She enjoys helping businesses be the best they can be. 

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