Thursday, 19 January 2012

Missed The Point Again

Those who follow these writings will have gathered I think that the banks have a fundamental misapprehension about small business but here’s a particular example showing how the National Assembly in Wales have fundamentally misunderstood small business as well.
From the start I have been critical of the Wales Economic Growth grant which are funds left over before the grants were largely whisked away in 2010. I said it was too proscriptive, was open for applications for too short a time and sadly had missed an opportunity (otherwise known as ‘the point’) once again.
This business grant has only been open since the beginning of December and I have had enquiries where ineligibilty has been the downfall for potential applicants, but I have a better example which illustrates the inept thinking that has gone into it.
A business trying its best
A Torfaen based company has been paddling hard to keep afloat. This has been partly because it has been shouldered out of contracts with another local council in favour of a company from the Midlands in very questionable circumstances, but that’s another story. To counter this and diversify they have identified a product and a market that sits nicely alongside their own and is largely unserviced.
I was asked about the grant and a finance application. All the grant criteria seemed to be answered. The Directors had the information, were in a good area for the grant, had a nod from both the bank and from Finance Wales that lending facilities to make up the matched funding could be available subject to successful application, and the company was keen to get on with it. Although the grant advice documents do not spell this out the Directors were even aware that guidelines for new employment could be met. So the lenders had been spoken to, the Accountant had the latest recent company figures ready for sign off and it all looked constructive and positive.
What is the grant for then?
Most of the ticks in place so far, so what actually are we spending this money on? The grant minimum is £100k and the best case is a 50% match in some areas so we need to propose spending £200k.  
We need a couple of web sites, marketing and PR, a van, some employees, some equipment and some examples to install in show areas. Totting it up quickly, I stretch the list to about £90k and to be honest we could do it for much less.
It is immediately obvious that the Directors, over keen  at the prospect of much needed assistance from the Welsh Government have fitted the finance around the possible funding. We could probably get away with a loan of £10k, have one web site and use the workforce and vans we already have, start things slowly and take less of a commercial risk.
In summary the grant is completely useless for what they want. In fact it is difficult to see how it can be of any use to anyone unless by chance they happen to be in the middle of a project that could use a substantial injection to make it bigger and better than first thought.  The project has to be under way (but not ‘committed’ or it is ineligible anyway) because there is insufficient time to organise a new project for which this grant might have a part to play.
I am left feeling cynical, exasperated, and still somehow, after long experience, disappointed that Business Support in Wales can be so inept in its operation. 

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