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Searching for financial help in the UK

How to decide between the funding options available to help grow a practice

01 October 2018, at 12:28pm

With competition in the world of veterinary medicine tough, business can seem very hard when you work on your own or are in the early days of setting up a new venture. So, wouldn’t it be great if your practice could be given a shot in the arm with some free – or at least low cost – help? Those prepared to search will find that there is plenty of help available.

There can be such a thing as “free money”, but it will come with strings and criteria that must be met. This is all achievable – it just requires some extra effort.

The money could come from several sources; much is from the government, but local authorities as well as some private organisations have a role to play. Amounts awarded can range from three figures – say, £500 – to £500,000 or more. Naturally, the larger the amount, the stricter the eligibility conditions. Further, some awards are matched – that is, those applying for the funding need to meet certain fund-raising targets of their own.

Probing the government

Helpfully, the gov.uk website has a simple-to-use online tool, “Finance and support for your business”, where visitors can search nationally according to keyword (eg health or agriculture), type of support (grant, equity, finance, loan, advice), stage of business (not yet trading, start-up, established), industry (again, health or agriculture) and number of employees.

There are pages of programmes that may be of interest – some are regional, and others UK-wide. There are a number of business start-up grant or support schemes, such as that in Mansfield, which offers £1,000 to spend on equipment, office furniture, fittings and marketing, as well as an advice service from Tewkesbury Borough Council that handholds applicants as they navigate the maze of grants.

Enterprise finance is available from a number of sources. Take the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Enterprise Answers programme for the north of England. Available to businesses with up to 249 employees, it offers “affordable” business loans from £5,000 to £100,000 if the business is based in Cumbria, Northumbria, County Durham or North Lancashire.

For those over 18 wanting to start their own business, the government offers mentoring and a grant via the New Enterprise Allowance. A business plan needs to be in place before applicants receive an allowance of £1,274 spread over 26 weeks; they are also eligible to apply for a loan to cover start-up costs.

For many, being in the digital slow lane is akin to commercial suicide – and the veterinary sector has the same issues as others. If you’re in this situation, you may be able to take advantage of the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme from BEIS. This programme provides up to £3,000 towards the cost of getting not just superfast broadband, but gigabit broadband, which is infinitely faster.

If low carbon and energy efficiency is of interest, there are a number of regional programmes such as that offered by Low Carbon Workspaces in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and the Black Country. This particular programme – backed by the European Regional Development Fund – offers between £1,000 and £5,000 to cover a third of the cost of a project that reduces energy consumption, waste, water and vehicle fuel costs.

Other sources to note

More help can be found by searching generally on the gov.uk site and selecting the relevant organisation.

Vets might find a small van more useful than a car. If so, they can use a government scheme to both go green and save on motoring costs. Set up by the government to push businesses towards electric vehicles used for commercial purposes, the Plug-in Van Grant Scheme offers business owners a 20 percent saving on the purchase price of a van.

For the new business-minded vet, aged 18 to 30, there is a low interest loan (and small grants in special circumstances) and mentoring help from the Prince’s Trust. In a similar vein, the trust’s Prince’s Countryside Fund offers more than £1 million each year in grants of up to £50,000 to projects that seek to benefit individuals and their rural communities. If a practice building can help the community, you may be able to get extra help. The funding has closed for 2018 but keep an eye out for the 2019 round from September 2018.

If you decide to take on premises and want to improve its outward appearance, you may be able to get funding and grants from your local authority. Ulverston, for example, offers up to £400 or up to 40 percent of the total costs in their conservation area – and the money can be used for painting, repairs and signage. There are plenty more examples of this type of grant throughout the UK.

Look to the regional governments

As well as looking at the UK government website, vets looking for assistance should check what is available from the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments; a good deal from any one of these might be enough to lead to relocation. Wales, for example, has more than 1,200 finance programmes on its Business Wales finance locator website, and Northern Ireland lists 162 business schemes on nibusinessinfo.co.uk. Scotland takes a different approach and hot-links to gov.uk while also giving links to Better Business Finance and the Scottish EU Funding Portal.

Examples from Wales include Blaenau Gwent Kick Start Grant, which offers a £1,000 grant to individuals or groups in the Blaenau Gwent area that are in the pre-start-up stage of starting a viable business. The Caerphilly Business Development Grant is similar and is valued at £2,000. And in Northern Ireland, capital grants for non-agricultural micro, small and social enterprises in rural areas of Derry City and Strabane District Council are available via the Rural Business Investment Scheme. This offers 50 percent funding and grants between £500 and £90,000 (depending on activity and size of business), marketing grants from £500 to £10,000, and capital grants with resource funds for marketing and bespoke training.

A different view

Getting money and help without cost is one side of the equation; another is creating interest from investors. Firms looking for equity or a cash injection from business angels can utilise various tax regimes to lower the cost of any investments made by investors.

There are two main programmes worth consideration. The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme is designed to encourage investment in UK companies; investors can claim eligible investments against their tax bill, significantly reducing capital risk.

In a similar vein is the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). This is a tax relief scheme for investment in more established companies. With EIS, investors can claim up to 30 percent back in tax on investments of up to £1 million. Investors can also defer capital gains tax on investment shares and after holding investments for three years, they become free from capital gains tax.

The detail for both is on HMRC’s website. There are as many sources of grants as there are leaves on a tree and there just simply is not enough space here to note them down. The lesson here is very simple – just search! Remember to broaden your horizons – look beyond government and into the local area and third-party private organisations.

Adam Bernstein is a freelance writer and small business owner based in Oxfordshire who writes on all matters of interest to small and medium-sized businesses.

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