Financier hits out over help for SMEs

A LEADING Yorkshire financier has slammed the Government’s “poor communication” and “unco-ordinated” implementation of the wide array of schemes to help small businesses.

Alex McWhirter, chief executive of Finance Yorkshire, said Government attempts to boost small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs are missing the target and too numerous to be effective.

State-backed initiatives include Access to Finance, the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, GrowthAccelerator and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. The Government also launched Funding for Lending to encourage banks to support SMEs.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

“Entrepreneurs are telling me they don’t know what is going on in terms of Government aid and advice,” said Mr McWhirter. “The Government needs to reduce the number of new initiatives it is launching and to work harder on the main ones to ensure they reach entrepreneurs more clearly and usefully.

“Inundating business owners with new initiatives is counter-productive and really our entrepreneurs should be better-placed to benefit from Government assistance.”

Mr McWhirter said he speaks to an increasing number of entrepreneurs who are confused by the array of support schemes.

“Nobody is saying that these initiatives do not work but there are just so many of them that it’s difficult to navigate through what’s right and what’s not right for them,” he said.

Finance Yorkshire has invested almost £30m in more than 200 SMEs since August 2010, with sums ranging from £15,000 to £2m. It is itself backed by the Government, the European Union and the European Investment Bank.

“We agree that SMEs need to grow us out of these economic circumstances,” said Mr McWhirter. “If a lot of these things were joined up we could actually make a big difference.”

His comments coincide with the annual Entrepreneurs’ Survey of Yorkshire and the Humber by law firm Nabarro and accountants Barber Harrison & Platt.

It found 65 per cent of respondents have not heard of many new SME growth initiatives.

Only 38 per cent of respondents said they have been contacted by a mentoring campaign. More than 40 per cent said they were not aware of Government mentoring campaigns.

Nabarro partner Ben Hendry said: “A ‘one size fits all’ approach to funding will not work. Yorkshire SMEs have specific characteristics, such as little appetite to raise finance to fund growth or to take advantage of tax breaks and other Government initiatives.

“Initiatives have to be tailored to meet our region’s specific needs.”

Mr McWhirter said local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), which replaced regional development agencies such as Yorkshire Forward, face a challenge to help implement and promote some of these schemes. “If it’s LEPs that are going to provide that, it’s a tough ask for new organisations that are not big,” he said.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said: “The Government is working alongside the private sector to make sure businesses know what support is available.

“The Business In You web portal signposts businesses to the best places to seek advice on starting and growing a business. There is also detailed information on the Gov.UK website, including a finance finder tool to help businesses identify the most appropriate channel of finance.

“We are reaching out to entrepreneurs and the recent Global Entrepreneurship Week saw over 3,000 enterprise events take place across the UK. Latest statistics show there are 4.8 million SMEs in the UK – a record number.”