Business groups have called on the Government to reopen the SME Brexit Support Fund after it was revealed that just a third of the grants available had been awarded.
The £20 million initiative was launched this summer in response to Brexit to help up to 10,000 traders get to grips with new customs processes.
But it has now been revealed that just 4,376 grants totalling £6.8 million have been awarded to struggling businesses, with the scheme now closed to new applications.
Commenting on the figures, the cross-party UK Trade and Business Commission said the initial application process was too complex and the scheme should be reopened to support businesses that are facing barriers to international trade.
“It seems that the Government’s support scheme is more of an obstacle course, which discourages applications by making SMEs jump through too many hoops for a very small return,” said Hilary Benn, co-chair of the UK Trade and Business Commission.
“We have heard first hand testimony from businesses continuing to face serious hardships since leaving the EU. If the Government really wants to support them, they must hold another round of bidding with a simplified application process and more substantial grants.”
Should the scheme reopen to new applications, here’s what your business needs to know.
What is the SME Brexit Support Fund?
The grant funding scheme enables traders to access specialist training to help them adapt to new customs and tax processes, such as the rules of origin and VAT.
According to recent research, the vast majority of small businesses who trade overseas only do so with the EU, meaning many are unfamiliar with the complex international trading rules introduced at the end of the transition period.
How much financial support could I receive?
Traders who currently trade with the EU, or plan to do so in the future, were able to access up to £2,000 in grant funding via this scheme. The cash could be used to pay for specialist training and professional advice – including accountant’s fees.
Who was eligible for support?
Eligible businesses had to have been established in the UK for at least 12 months before applying, or currently hold Authorised Economic Operator status, and:
- not have previously failed to meet its tax or customs obligations
- have no more than 500 employees
- have no more than £100 million turnover; and
- import or export goods between Great Britain and the EU, or move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The business should also:
- complete (or intend to complete) import or export declarations internally for its own goods
- use someone else to complete import or export declarations but requires additional capability internally to effectively import or export (such as advice on rules of origin or advice on dealing with a supply chain).
It is not yet known whether the Government will reintroduce the grant, despite pressure from various organisations. Nevertheless, businesses struggling with the new trade and VAT rules should seek advice at the earliest opportunity.