Free Access to Public Sector Contracts for Small Businesses.

10 08 2009

Small Businesses in the UK will now be able to access public sector procurement opportunities free of charge. The contracts, worth up to £100,000 will be available to view on the Government’s website www.supply2.gov.uk.

The government have advertised thousands of opportunities for the last three years, however small businesses had to pay a subscription fee of £180, to be able to view them.

In light of the current economic conditions, the Government have now removed this fee, making it possible for small businesses to access the contracts to help their businesses grow.

Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ian Pearson said:

“Small and medium businesses are a crucial part of the UK economy and in these challenging times it is essential that we support them in as many ways as possible.

“By introducing a free to use national search service we are helping to create a level playing field on which SMEs can compete with their larger counterparts. This will realise benefits for SMEs, the economy as a whole, and help drive further innovation in public services.”

The Glover report, which was published in November 2008 highlighted the need for a single online portal for public sector contracts.

Business Minister Shriti Vadera said that the free service for small businesses is a step towards that goal:

“Small businesses are facing significant pressure in this downturn and new contracts are essential for their return to growth.

“We want to support small businesses by making it easier to access the thousands of Government procurement opportunities that are directly relevant to them.

“This free service is an interim step along the way to introducing a single website for all public sector contracts next year.”

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Budget Boost For Innovation, Green Tech and Skills

24 04 2009

More details are emerging about the new £750m Strategic Investment Fund announced in this year’s Budget to support advanced industrial projects of strategic importance to the country and the economy. The Fund promises to focus investment on innovative and fast growing companies in sectors including biotech, clean energy and digital media.

A £250m allocation from this Fund will be earmarked for low-carbon investment, while the Technology Strategy Board will receive £50m and UK Trade & Investment, which supports UK businesses trading internationally, will get £10m. There will also be enhanced capital allowances for energy-saving and water-efficient (environmentally beneficial) technologies.

Strategic investment

Innovation and ‘green’ sectors of the economy were heralded as big winners in the 2009 Budget, with an additional £500m of spending announced as part of an overall £1.4bn package of targeted support to boost Britain’s low-carbon sectors.

NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) welcomed the announcement on Budget Day. Its Chief Executive, Jonathan Kestenbaum, said: “Today the Government took a vital step on the road to recovery and the future looks a lot brighter for the UK’s entrepreneurs. The Fund will give a new vibrancy to the UK’s technology market and will bring about deep and lasting change to our economy.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths-related (STEM) subjects in schools will benefit from a £2m investment to provide the knowledge and skills needed by some of the sectors where development will be concentrated thanks to new investments in innovation and strategically important technologies.

The NCGE already provides direct support for STEM entrepreneurs – for instance, through new FlyingStart Programmes for Engineers, with the Royal Academy of Engineering; Software Entrepreneurship and Online Business, last December with Microsoft and Agitavi Research; and now ‘Go WEST’ – Women in Engineering, Science and Technology. Candidates have until 15th May to apply for this event at the University of Surrey.

Support for business

The Budget saw a series of other measures introduced or extended to ease pressure on small businesses. Support for business in the current year looks fairly substantial. Chief among the measures is increasing to 40% tax relief to businesses on capital spending – for one year only. This scheme alone is forecast to cost the Treasury £1.64bn.

For loss-making companies, there will be the chance to reclaim taxes on profits made in the last three years until November 2010. A top-up trade credit insurance scheme will be introduced, which will match private sector trade credit insurance provision if insurers reduce their cover for businesses operating in the UK.

The total cost of deferring payments to HMRC through an extended Business Payment Support Service, the car scrappage scheme, improvements to venture capital investment schemes, and various other smaller initiatives is over £3.3bn.

Reacting to the budget on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme, Lord Karan Bilimoria, the Government’s National Champion for Graduate Entrepreneurship, said: “What we’ve got to do is encourage entrepreneurship, encourage enterprise. People forget the basics: that it is actually wealth creation and business that creates employment that pays the taxes that pay for public services.”





Universities Mobilise To Support Business and Entrepreneurs

16 04 2009

HEFCE and DIUS have said what money will be allocated to which HEIs from the Economic Challenge Investment Fund.

Standing Together provides contacts and practical examples.

Standing Together provides contacts and practical examples.

A total of 77 universities and colleges will offer between them £59,240,920 of match funding to help businesses and communities. The total amount of funding being made available by HEFCE to successful bidders is £27,572,834, with the remainder provided in the form of matching contributions from institutions and local partners.

The Economic Challenge Investment Fund opened for bids in January for its £27 million in match funding. It is designed to help institutions delivering short-term support between April 2009 and September 2010. The funding has enabled many institutions already actively engaged in entrepreneurship education, knowledge transfer and business support to boost their activities.

It’s just one part of an increasingly coordinated response by higher education institutions to the economic crisis, and enterprise and entrepreneurship are key features of many initiatives awarded funding and support.

Every university is now being challenged to be a ‘business facing university’ as Government and business look to the higher education to demonstrate how they can support the economy and their local communities.

“Demand for higher education usually grows during an economic downturn” says a useful new guide Standing Together – Universities helping business through the downturn. The guide gives names and contact details at 157 institutions and links to examples of schemes already supporting business and enterprise across the country.

Standing Together has been published by Universities UK, GuildHE and HEFCE, with support from DIUS, to provide examples of how HEIs are contributing to the effort to get British business back on track.

The recipient of the most Economic Challenge Fund money is the University of Cumbria, which will receive £1 million for its activities. Cumbria is one Northwest university with vibrant enterprise activity.

The University has in post an NCGE-NWDA Northwest Enterprise Champion, Jo Chaffer, who led a successful intensive three-day entrepreneurship course that launched a FlyingStart General Business Programme at the end of March for over 30 graduate entrepreneurs.

Other universities awarded nearly £1 million include Aston University in Birmingham, identified yesterday by the Work Foundation as the UK city hardest hit by unemployment. Its Pro Vice Chancellor for Business Partnerships and Knowledge Transfer, Dr Phil Extance, said: “We’re delighted to win this latest bid, which will enable us to increase the scope of two of our successful activities and to allow universities to help businesses tackle the difficult issues they face.

“Creating a further 104 Innovation Vouchers is excellent news as the previous round of vouchers, awarded under the INDEX project, was nearly three times oversubscribed. It indicates that there is a real demand for support for innovation even in the current difficult economic climate”

Next in the Economic Challenge list is the University of Derby, collaborating with four further education colleges – West Nottinghamshire College, Derby College, North Notts College and Chesterfield College. One key strand of Derby’s proposal is the University’s own Enterprise Scheme, which will be extended to currently excluded groups such as redundant professionals and graduates, or those at risk of unemployment.

There will be 20 incubator access grants and 12 enterprise bursaries offered to encourage new businesses to start up.

Derby’s Commercial Director Andrew Hartley, who helped shape the bid, said: “This support programme incorporates the strengths of individual partners and fills gaps in provision that have been identified with support from external agencies such as Job Centre Plus and Business Link. “The objective of this collaboration is to ensure that support is available at the point of need. Independent research commissioned by the University of Derby found that a lot of people individuals would like to access services at their local institution.

“This programme will therefore aim to offer co-ordinated services through both the University of Derby and a linked network of the emda-funded Higher Education Centres within further education colleges and local authority managed business/innovation centres across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.”

Derby is just one example of a university which actively supports graduate entrepreneurship. In March it hosted an NCGE FlyingStart Rally and Creative Careers Fair where GQ Editor Dylan Jones revealed how he graduated from Saint Martins School of Art during the recession of the early 1980s. He revealed it was a time of opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Speaking to over 120 potential small business owners, he said: “The economic downturn in the 1980s was one of the most creative periods,” he said. “People were starting record labels, magazines and nightclubs. There was a huge vacuum for cultural enterprises to fill. Therefore a creative groundswell took place.”

DIUS, HEFCE, Universities UK and the CBI, RDAs, the Business Link network, and many other regional and national bodies are investing great effort in working together with universities to help businesses and individuals. It’s time to showcase the great work taking place at HEIs and support opportunities for entrepreneurship.





Entrepreneurship, HE and the Recession

20 02 2009

entrepreneur_recessionThe debate rumbles on. Does the present economic downturn hold opportunity for entrepreneurs, or is the situation too bleak to yield success? Can entrepreneurs lead economies out of recession on a wave of innovation and start-ups?

Governments and business have high expectations. The higher education sector must also contribute to bolstering entrepreneurship and economic recovery.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has already responded, launching its Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF) to enable higher education to respond rapidly to the needs of employers and individuals during the economic downturn.

Ten larger collaborative proposals will be supported by up to £1 million each in HEFCE contributions. A further 40 smaller proposals, normally up to £500,000 each from HEFCE, will be approved after the 27th February deadline as part of this £50 million scheme.

Announcing the ECIF on 27th January, Professor David Eastwood said: “The new initiative is designed to meet urgent and short-term economic challenges facing individuals (whether in work or unemployed), new graduates and businesses. We are looking particularly to help small and medium enterprises.

“Higher education has never been closer to business. The strong links developed over the past few years put universities and colleges in an excellent position to make a flexible response to current economic challenges at a time when it is vital that we continue to invest in enterprise and skills.”

A vice-chancellor’s perspective

Just before Christmas, several vice-chancellors were called to a meeting with Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham MP to discuss how higher education can contribute to bringing the UK out of recession.

One who contributed to that meeting was Professor Tim Wilson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, a university that places its relationships with industry at the heart of what it does. Professor Wilson advocated ‘Innovation Vouchers’, such as those already piloted in the West Midlands, where businesses can “spend” a sum – say £1,000 – at a university to get support and advice on specific issues.

“What a fantastic way not only to get universities to support small businesses, but also to get small business expertise into universities,” Professor Wilson said in an interview with Lucy Hodges in The Independent on 29th January.

He also supports ‘Training Vouchers’ for people who are made redundant to improve their skills through short university courses; and he promotes the idea of universities welcoming more ‘spin-in’ companies which need to be helped in the early stages of start-up and development. “This is one of the biggest opportunities the university sector has ever had to make a real impact on economic regeneration,” he said.

Towards a ‘new entrepreneurship’

In principle, ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ should determine what new opportunities are available and seek out the resources needed to exploit these. Easier said than done. A leading thinker on entrepreneurship, Professor David Rae, Director of the Centre for Management & Business Research in the Lincoln Business School, suggests that universities are well placed to contribute to the development of a ‘new entrepreneurship’, “led by education, in which social responsibility, environmental sustainability and the practice of ethical and moral frameworks become integral”.

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Lincoln on 28th January 2009, Professor Rae examined whether ‘entrepreneurship’ is ‘too risky to let loose in a stormy climate’. He revealed that he graduated at the cusp of a recession in 1981 and founded his first business a decade later during the recession in 1991, but acknowledged that the challenge seems greater now.

“The ability of graduates to find jobs and start their careers, and of entrepreneurs to run their businesses successfully during a recession, is of great concern,” he said. “I hope this lecture will start a debate which is urgently needed on what better ways we can create which enable us to do these important things and what the contribution of the University can be to achieve this in the next few challenging years.”

Professor Rae, who is ISBE‘s Vice-President for Education, offered three “suggestions to advance the development of entrepreneurship in the new era. One is the value of mutual and collective enterprise[…]. The second is the need to use latent resources to regenerate economic activity. The third is the role of learning in creating the new entrepreneurship.” In examining the role of learning, Professor Rae stated: “I believe that Higher Education has a responsibility to work with business people and wider communities to create and apply knowledge which leads to new solutions, and at this time that is more critical than ever.”

He added that: “Students need to be enterprising to create life and career opportunities by being resourceful and imaginative in applying their skills and talents to a range of opportunities.”

Rae concluded that: “The University can provide an intellectual and creative arena where different models of enterprise, economic activity and value creation can emerge and be taken forward into the community by our students. We cannot do this alone and we welcome people from business, communities and public sector agencies to work with us.”

With the ECIF fund and a prioritised and more proactive approach to business, many universities are seeking to respond to the challenges of the new global economic environment, an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace, and changes to research funding. The work of organisations such as the NCGE will prove a valuable catalyst for improving collaborative links between HEIs, business and government.





Government Finance Boost For Businesses

14 01 2009

The Government has today launched an £11 billion package of support to address the cash flow, credit and capital needs of UK businesses. At its centre is a mechanism that will enable banks to refinance around £20 billion of debt due for repayment this year by medium sized companies.

This package of measures to provide stimulus and support to business puts into operation and builds upon commitments made in the Pre-Budget Report on 24 November.

It provides:

  • £75m capital (£50m from HMG and £25m from banks) fund to invest in businesses who need equity or quasi equity;
  • £1bn of guarantees supporting £1.3bn of lending to smaller businesses;
  • Up to £10bn of guarantees supporting £20bn of working capital.

Capital for Enterprise Fund

The Chancellor announced in the Pre-Budget Report a £50 million debt for equity fund. Government is announcing today that this Capital for Enterprise Fund will provide £75 million of equity, made up £50 million of Government funds and an additional £25 million from Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and RBS.

The purpose of the fund will be to provide equity and quasi equity of £250,000 to £2 million for companies under the EU SME definition, i.e. of turnover of up to €50 million, who have viable business models and growth potential in need of long term capital.

Enterprise Finance Guarantee

In the Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor announced a £1 billion Small Business Finance Scheme. Today, this goes live as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee.

This 75% guarantee for loans will support bank lending, of three months to ten year maturity, to businesses with a turnover of up to £25 million who are currently not easily able to access the finance they need. This will enable them to secure loans of between £1,000 and £1 million through the government guarantee, available up to 31 March 2010.

The guarantee will be available through the following high street banks from today – Barclays, Clydesdale/Yorkshire Bank, HBOS, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, RBS/Natwest and Northern Bank. It will become available from other lenders if they wish to apply.

Working Capital Scheme

The Government also announced in its Pre-Budget Report a working capital scheme for smaller exporters. Based on the risk analysis done since that announcement it believes that the model can be expanded for working capital guarantees for all firms of turnover of up to £500 million. So the Government is today ready to make available to banks guarantees of up to £10 billion for up to 50% of the working capital on a £20 billion portfolio of loans.

Banks are invited to submit their portfolio of existing and projected new or refinance loans for approval under the guarantee. We have received declarations of interest by Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and RBS. With the support of participating banks, we hope the first £1 billion guarantee tranche of the scheme should be operational by 1 March. Use of this facility will of course be subject to final terms guaranteeing value for money.

By guaranteeing portfolios of working capital facilities, this package will release capital held by the banks against these portfolios.  The banks have agreed they will make commitments to re-deploy this capital in order to increase all types of lending above their current plans, to businesses with a turnover of less than £500 m. The guarantee will ensure banks do not reduce or withdraw working capital lines on renewal which, being short term, can be easy to cut. It will also ensure that there is new capacity by banks to lend to UK businesses, who are suffering from the withdrawal of certain lenders from the market.

Information on all this support can be accessed via a dedicated web portal at www.businesslink.gov.uk/realhelp. This provides details including contact names and numbers for each bank and for the local Business Link. To register interest for the Capital For Enterprise Fund, businesses should call 0845 459 9780.

Additional options are being explored to provide further backing.

Time to Pay

As announced in the Pre-Budget Report, since last November, businesses experiencing cash flow difficulties can also get help from the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Business Support Service.  Businesses worried about being able to meet tax, National Insurance, VAT or other payments owed or coming due to HMRC can call the Business Payment Support Line, seven days a week, on 0845 302 1435.

HMRC staff will review temporary options tailored to the business needs, such as arranging for payments to be made over a longer period. HMRC will not charge additional late payment surcharges on payments included in the arrangement, although interest will continue to be payable on those taxes where it applies.  This is one more way in which Government is providing real help for businesses to manage their cashflow and free up working capital they need.

Credit Insurance

The Government is committed to targeted support for businesses to help them through the current economic climate. Reduction of credit insurance can exacerbate financial difficulties already being felt by firms, so BERR is discussing with trade credit insurance providers a government scheme to help companies affected by reductions in their credit insurance. There will be a further announcement on this as it progresses.

BERR Minister Lord Mandelson said: “The Government will continue to support and provide funding and capital to the bank system to ensure that banks are able to support businesses.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy – employing  60% of the private sector workforce and contributing over 50% of UK turnover.   We remain committed to doing everything we can to help them through the current economic difficulties.”





Web 2.0 for business

1 05 2008

British entrepreneurial talent has recently been on tour in Silicon Valley as part of a government-backed project to provide a window into the UK’s start up scene.  Twenty companies were chosen from over a hundred for the first Web Mission 08 to showcase the high level of technology emerging beyond the Valley.  In addition, the Telegraph noted that Web 2.0 is producing a new wave of entrepreneurs with London acting as the epicentre for many of the developments. 

However, two surveys indicate that not all SMEs are able to take advantage of developments in technology:

  • Although Web 2.0 tools have the potential to transform business, many companies are still reluctant to implement them because of security fears, a survey by KPMG International and The Economist Intelligence Unit revealed in January. Nearly 70% of business executives believe Web 2.0 tools would help employees work more efficiently, a further 75% said the tools would foster innovation within their businesses, and 86% said Web 2.0 would improve knowledge sharing. 
  • A national survey conducted by researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, found that the government is failing to act as a helpful source of advice for SMEs during their adoption and use of information and communication technology (ICT).  As a result, these businesses are not using ICT to its full potential.  The survey found that ecommerce isn’t really making much of an impact (in the sectors surveyed) and SMEs don’t find government helpful as a source of advice in this area.

[See also: The 101 most useful websites for business from The Telegraph]





Meeting the green challenge

29 04 2008

The following news items from last week indicate different ways in which the UK higher education, business, and voluntary sectors are meeting the “green challenge”:

  • The University of Strathclyde announced the establishment of Europe’s first post-graduate course to teach budding entrepreneurs how to turn environmental ideas into business ventures. The MSc in environmental entrepreneurship will be taught for the first time in September.
  • “Green policies” are already embedded in the practices of the twelve companies who received a 2008 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of their outstanding achievements in Sustainable Development.
  • NESTA announced the shortlist of UK groups competing for its million-pound Big Green Challenge prize fund, by coming up with innovative ideas to tackle climate change in their communities.

Despite this activity, greening the UK remains a challenge, as a recent survey of the UK’s SMEs by the Tenon Forum indicated that the UK’s entrepreneurs are baulking against implementing environmental measures (it cost an estimated £3.1bn to “go green” in past year).

[See also The greening of entrepreneurship]