The impact of Covid‐19 on SMEs has been truly staggering with 9.4 million people placed on furlough by July this year. Many, if not all, SMEs have been forced to change the way they operate overnight and the reliance on connectivity has never been more important. As the government encourages us to Build Back Better, it’s essential that we give Britain’s businesses what they need to survive, or their very existence could be in danger and the livelihoods of many threatened.
What’s the problem facing SMEs?
SMEs are facing a perfect storm – an unprecedented pandemic and now the impending fallout of Brexit at the end of the year. SMEs are at the heart of the UK’s recovery and economic growth plans, but in order to compete on a national and global stage, they need fast connectivity that works if they are to hope to generate investment in new services and solutions for their customers – and ultimately create job opportunities.
A lack of easily accessible funding to upgrade existing connectivity has meant that gaining fast internet connectivity is still problematic for many SMEs. A successful and efficient, simple, stand alone, non-aggregated voucher scheme to incentivise connectivity already exists - however, demand meant funds were used up quickly plus it is no longer available to new applicants.
The current scheme requires its beneficiaries to be grouped together into areas of demand, which increases the risk that individuals will be left behind. Simply put, either you’re in with your neighbours, or you’re out on your own.
Without Government intervention, local businesses are under threat.
“Britain’s SMEs need more support and robust internet connectivity to survive and indeed thrive as they form the heart of the UK’s post‐pandemic and Brexit economy recovery; funding via Government support is needed for those businesses now as many face the risk of closure if they cannot compete in a digital world.”
What the SMEs are saying:
"What was great is that the system was so simple. Funding really can’t be a communal thing where businesses have to wait until the whole community agrees – it doesn’t make any practical sense.”
“Although I desperately needed better broadband, I couldn’t have upgraded without the voucher scheme.
“It is really important for the majority of businesses here to have high speed connectivity to help them expand their business and respond to customers quickly. One of the first questions prospective tenants ask is ‘how good is the internet connection?"
Linda Connelly, Spring Property Management
Steve Voller, Director at MDI Networks Ltd, said, "Without the support of external funding many companies won’t be able to afford to increase the capability of their internet connections."
"This will leave them either having to place more employees within the office premises or they will have to scale down their operations either through furlough or redundancies."
What can be done?
Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. The government could reallocate some existing unused funds from complex schemes into similar, simpler ones. Schemes such as the Gigabit Voucher Scheme (GBVS) have proved hugely popular, with around 30,000 applicants successfully improving their connectivity as a result. Whilst incredibly important to continue to fund schemes to support rural broadband connectivity, we believe the imbalance in uptake compared to funding allocation needs to be set right. As well as funding rural areas, the government should also consider supporting additional funding for those struggling with connectivity in urban areas.
“We’re calling on the Government to reallocate existing funds, which are expected to be left unspent, into a voucher-based programme to provide immediate support for individual connectivity requirements. We believe this is the most effective way to give SMEs the connectivity they need to survive, and indeed thrive, throughout the ongoing pandemic and into our post‐Brexit environment.”
If you believe the Government should intervene and support SMEs to get easier access to funding to support connectivity installation, please register your details below.