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BT Launches Major New Drive to Support SMEs in Wales

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BT has announced an unprecedented package of support to help the 265,000 small businesses in Wales get better positioned for recovery and growth following the coronavirus outbreak and as they prepare for a post-Brexit future.

In 2019, 99.4% of total businesses active in Wales were small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Wales has larger proportions of employment in SMEs than the rest of the UK, with SMEs accounting for 62.4% of employment, compared to 60% for the UK.

The launch of BT’s Small Business Support Scheme sees the company introduce a range of new measures to help small business boost their connectivity, cashflow and confidence – key concerns which have been identified by Small Business Britain’s recent surveys of its membership.

BT’s action plan includes a commitment to pay its 4,500 small business suppliers promptly and within 30 days of being invoiced, to helping firms fund the cost of ultrafast business connections, as well as access to free resources such as business mentoring, digital skills, marketing tools and mental health support.

The launch comes as a new survey conducted by Small Business Britain and BT revealed that 67 per cent of small businesses surveyed in Wales are expecting another lockdown in 2020. More than half of those surveyed [60 per cent] do not feel confident in their business. On the positive side, 57 per cent believe the Covid-19 crisis has increased public awareness and support of small businesses, while 57 per cent view the changes they’ve made to their business to adapt to the crisis as positive.

Sam Toombs, Director for BT’s Enterprise business in Wales, said:

“With small businesses accounting for more than 99 per cent of all businesses in Wales***, they are the beating heart of our economy, high streets and communities. They deserve the support of each and every one of us to help them thrive into the future.

“At BT, we can use our technology, scale and expertise to help small businesses kick-start recovery and growth by boosting their connectivity, cashflow and confidence. So we’ve listened to the needs of small businesses and are stepping up to deliver a support scheme which should have something for everyone, whether you’re a sole trader, tech-start up, micro business or a larger firm.”

Ken Skates, Welsh Government Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said:

“The past few months have been extremely challenging for SMEs across the country.  We have responded with the most generous package of support for businesses in the UK.  Our unique Economic Resilience Fund has provided almost £138m to Micro and SME firms already, and has helped protect almost 75,000 jobs.

“It’s good to see BT provide additional support services, advice and backing for SMEs during this difficult time.”

Ian Price, CBI Wales Director, said:

“BT’s commitment to supporting small businesses through these tough times will be incredibly valuable.

“The CBI has championed digital connectivity and skills as indispensable to all sectors of the economy and in every part of the UK, and this initiative focussed on support to smaller firms is particularly welcome.”

BT’s Small Business Support Scheme comprises the following measures:

Boosting Connectivity

  • Funding ultrafast business connections: BT will help small businesses fund the cost of an ultrafast business connection (known as an Ethernet line), by subsidising the total cost by up to £2,500 per customer. Additionally in Wales, the Welsh Government announced in June that the value of broadband vouchers for SMEs located in rural areas have been doubled to help subsidise the costs of installing gigabit-capable broadband. Vouchers worth up to £3,500 for rural SMEs have been available in Wales since May 2019. The announcement means that the maximum government funding available through each voucher is now up to £7,000 for rural SMEs.
  • Launching bursaries for UK tech start-ups: BT is introducing a new bursary scheme to give 1,000 UK tech start-ups and entrepreneurs a financial head start. From October, eligible companies can apply for a bursary to benefit from free fibre broadband and mobile bundles. Further details will be announced in due course.
  • Introducing BT Halo for Business: BT has launched the UK’s only converged fibre broadband, mobile and digital phone line bundle for micro-businesses, which represent 91 per cent of all businesses in the UK. By combining three powerful connections in one package, Halo helps businesses stay better connected inside and outside of the workplace, so that they never miss an important call or a sale.
  • Helping small businesses to go cashless: BT is preparing to launch a new digital payments solution, to help small businesses move to cashless transactions. This is a trend which is accelerating as a result of the pandemic, with 25 per cent of small businesses increasing their use of contactless payments over the past few months. Further details will be announced in due course.

Better Cashflow:

  • Prompt payment for BT’s small business suppliers: With 58 per cent[1] of small businesses citing cashflow as their number one concern, BT is committing to pay its 4,500 small business suppliers within 30 days of being invoiced. This sees BT halving the 60-day terms stipulated by the Government’s Prompt Payment Code.
  • Financial flexibility for the hardest hit: BT has been assisting small businesses in financial distress during the peak of the pandemic by helping them find a flexible option for paying their bill. This will continue over the coming months, with BT creating a dedicated team to support customers who are struggling with aspects of their bill as a result of the pandemic.

Building Confidence:

  • Helping small businesses access the full power of digital and social media advertising: With 63 per cent of small businesses wanting more support around marketing and sales, BT is looking to help small firms across the UK to better promote their goods and services online. More details will be revealed in due course.
  • Supporting small businesses through mentoring: BT is introducing a new mentoring scheme for small businesses, to provide them with free access to its expertise across strategy, marketing, sales, and more. BT will support businesses via Digital Boost, a free non-profit platform uniting digital experts with leaders of small businesses and  charities. Further details will be announced over the coming weeks.
  • Helping small businesses acquire new digital skills: BT’s ambition is to reach 1m small business owners and their employees with digital skills by 2025, with 46 per cent expecting to increase their use of digital tools following the pandemic. BT has already helped tens of thousands of small businesses with digital skills training through its Skills for Tomorrow programme and has released new learning content on crucial topics, including how to prevent cyber-attacks and using social media to reach new customers.
  • Wellbeing support: BT is acutely aware that it’s an extremely worrying and uncertain time for small businesses, so we will be providing customers with access to expertise around maintaining their wellbeing by boosting their mental and physical health. This will be delivered through a free online toolkit and webinar series specifically designed for small businesses

Commenting on the details of the new support package, Ms Toombs said: “

At BT, we can use our technology, scale and expertise to help small businesses kick-start recovery and growth by boosting their connectivity, cashflow and confidence. So, we’ve listened to the needs of small businesses and are stepping up to deliver a support scheme which should have something for everyone – whether you’re a sole trader, tech-start up, micro business or a larger firm.”