The Pitch
Government support for small businesses

A guide to Government support for small businesses

There’s a lot of government help aimed at businesses, however, the amount of choice can feel overwhelming. Clive Lewis FCA, head of enterprise at ICAEW, gives his advice on the more likely sources of government assistance for small businesses.

Starting or growing a business can be very challenging, so it’s natural for businesses to tap into all the help they can find, particularly if it comes from the government. But many businesses seeking help become confused by the vast number of initiatives and eventually give up looking for help.

The Government is working to ensure business support is simpler, more joined up and easier to access. In this article, we point businesses towards the more likely sources of government help available.

1. GOV.UK website

GOV.UK is a single point of access to all government services and information, and national and local publicly funded business support services. It provides information and guidance on starting and running a business, including statutory rights and obligations, and the ability to search for support using the business finance and support finder.

The Business Finance & Support Finder is an interactive tool, which is searchable by sector, business size, location, activity and business stage. It allows businesses to search for government-backed support and finance for business, including:

  • grants, finance and loans;
  • business support e.g. mentoring, consultancy; and
  • funding for small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups.

The website also has information on:

  • Employing people
  • Money and tax
  • Business and self-employed.

2. National Business Support Helpline

The Business Support Helpline is a key element of the government’s business support provision. It provides signposting, diagnostic support and business improvement guidance to pre-starts, start-ups, and existing businesses to help them start and grow. The service provides national information, which all businesses need, plus information, guidance and signposting to local sources of help.

For businesses that need additional help, have immediate, complex needs or may be at risk, there’s a call back service offering more in-depth support through a small team of experienced Business Support Advisors (BSAs). They offer up to 60 minutes of free telephone business support, tailored to the individual business needs.

Businesses can call 0300 456 3565 to speak to a business support advisor (9.00am – 6.00pm Monday to Friday). Businesses can also ask questions through @businessgov using #BusinessSupportHelpline.

The helpline also has an information knowledge bank, collected over many years of delivering business support, and also holds the database for the Business Finance and Support Finder tool on GOV.UK.

3. Local help for business

The Government has created a network of local Growth Hubs, which join up and deliver business support locally and make it easier for businesses to find the help they need. You can find your local growth hub by using the growth hub finder. There are 39 Growth Hubs across the country, one for every Local Enterprise Partnership delivering business support to 100% of the registered business population.  These are a single local access point for all public and private sector business support, effectively a ‘front end’ for LEP programmes and other national local economic support.

Growth Hub partners include chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and other business bodies, universities/university business schools,  Enterprise Zones and catapults, banks other private sector bodies and national government.

4.    Financial Support

British Business Bank

The British Business Bank provides funds and guarantees to private sector partners allowing them to finance more smaller businesses either through debt or equity. Its website has easy to understand information on all types of finance and their advantages and disadvantages.

Help to Grow and Start Up Loans: In May 2016, the British Business Bank launched the initial phase of the ‘Help to Grow’ programme to help smaller businesses to raise senior debt to fund their growth opportunities. Lloyds Banking Group will be providing loans of up to £2m to support the development of new products and processes, stimulate research and innovation, and help businesses target new export markets.

Start-Up Loans Company

The Start-Up Loans scheme provides advice, loans and mentoring to start-up businesses. The Government has committed to deliver 75,000 Start-up loans by the end of the parliament.

Most national and local grants focus on particular business activities or purposes:


There are regional grants that support growth through capital investment and job creation – location can play a key part:

  • The location of your business may increase your chances of successfully applying for a grant. You may be eligible for support if you’re starting a business in an economically disadvantaged area, especially if it’s one with high unemployment.
  • Local support (e.g. subsidised rent and rates) is often available to encourage small businesses to start up in particular areas.


There is a wide range of grant schemes that encourage research and development (R&D) activities in the UK’s high-tech industries:

  • Support is available from investigating an idea through to proof of concept and development. Find out more.
  • R&D grants that focus on specific industries are periodically launched (e.g. The Carbon Trust, DEFRA and WRAP). Funding is also available through Innovate UK who  currently provides funding for research, development and demonstration projects through four broad sector-based programmes:
    • Emerging and Enabling Technologies
    • Health and Life Sciences
    • Infrastructure Systems
    • Manufacturing and Materials.
  • Innovate UK funds businesses of all sizes so that they can create new products and processes to drive economic growth across the UK. It has recently simplified its funding competitions, making it easier and quicker for all business to apply for the support they need.

Businesses can apply for funding to test the feasibility of an idea, research and develop it and demonstrate it in a prototype. All of the current and forthcoming funding competitions run by Innovate UK are published here

Energy and the environment

These schemes recognise the additional cost for businesses that adopt or engage in investments that improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact:

  • R&D programmes are available to companies working on developing energy and environmental products.
  • Grant schemes may be available for new buildings or for refurbishing existing buildings that aim to improve energy use.

Capital allowances are also available to businesses that install energy saving equipment and processes.


Employer-led apprenticeship reforms continue to improve the quality of apprenticeships, providing the skills that employers need.

  • The National Apprenticeship Service gives advice to employers on how to employ an apprentice.
  • Eligible employers, with fewer than 50 employees, can receive a £1,500 grant per apprentice (aged 16 to 24) for up to five new apprentices currently. This is available until end of the 2016/17 academic year.

Tax reliefs

If none of these themes relate to your business, don’t worry. The government also offers support through tax schemes such as R&D Tax Credits and capital allowances to reduce tax liabilities. Your chartered accountant will be able to advise on the schemes which may be available to your business.

5.  National business support programmes

Department for International Trade

Provides advice on export capability and opportunities, contacts in overseas markets, arranging overseas visits, e-commerce, export training and market research. Find out more.

Innovate UK

Provides funding to support R&D and innovation activity to organisations across the UK mainly through web based competitions. Also supports networks to connect partners to promote knowledge sharing. Find out more.

Design Council (Designing Demand Programme)

Small national programme that helps SMEs use design to improve performance through bespoke packages of design support and coaching delivering through design associates. Find out more.

Intellectual Property Office (IPO)

Provides services such as workshops for SMEs, IP awareness raising and online assessment tools. It also trains independent business advisers as IP auditors so that they can advise SMEs on IP issues. Find out more.

Enterprise Act 2016

The package of measures in the Act will make sure that Britain is the best place to start and grow a business and that people have the opportunity to succeed. It delivers on many of the government’s commitments, from cutting red tape to boosting the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.  It makes it easier for small firms to resolve payment disputes by setting up a Small Business Commissioner. Find out more.

© ICAEW 2017. ICAEW will not be liable for any reliance you place on the information in this material. You should seek independent advice.

Clive Lewis

Clive Lewis

Clive Lewis is ICAEW‘s head of enterprise. ICAEW is a professional membership organisation, supporting over 145,000 chartered accountants worldwide. ICAEW Chartered Accountants are the biggest source of business advice, reaching over two million businesses from more than 20,000 offices across the UK.