Accountancy fee grants ‘became a complete lottery’
The demand for the professional services grant which covers accountancy fees has left a huge number of accountants empty handed.
The £20m professional services grant fund that aimed to help virus-hit small and medium sized businesses get back on track with professional advice such as accountancy has not lived up to the profession’s expectations.
“I knew there wasn’t enough to go around,” Corporate Finance Network chair Kirsty McGregor said of the scheme. Only 300 grants available for a whole county “wasn’t a lot when we knew there was going to be a lot of demand.”
The scheme was announced at the end of July by Simon Clarke, minister for regional growth and local government, to give small and medium-sized businesses “the support they need to continue to thrive”.
‘It became a complete lottery’
But as McGregor said on this week’s Any Answers Live: “It became a complete lottery.”
She added, “I’ve not heard of anybody who has actually had funding from this yet. The nice headlines caused us all to get excited, but it never quite materialised.”
McGregor raised issues that had already been brought up by AccountingWEB members: for example, the grant values differed depending on the areas where they were claimed, with grants averaging £3,000 and the maximum £5,000 amount being awarded only in exceptional circumstances.
The opening dates differed massively by region, with some readers reporting that their councils closed down applications rapidly after being overwhelmed by needy businesses. AccountingWEB reader DCR reported that in Cornwall the system only lasted 10 minutes.
Live panellist and digital.accountant founder Paul Layte FCA called the grant a wet firework that “didn’t go off as planned”.
“From an accountant’s perspective, we know it’s not one piece of work that can restore a business to full health,” Layte said. “It requires funding spread over a long period of time.”
He opted instead for working with clients to implement their own programmes to nurse their businesses back to health over an extended time.
To business and beyond
When McGregor previously discussed the grant on AccountingWEB’s No Accounting for Taste podcast she was full of hope for the outcome of the professional services grants.
McGregor admitted that she had been “young and naive” at the time. The reality of the situation did not live up to what accountants were hoping for.
Instead, as AccountingWEB’s editor Richard Hattersley quipped, the proposal ended up as the Buzz Lightyear of grants: “You spend all day queuing up only to not get one.”
Confusion in the community
Frustration about access to professional services grants spilled over into Any Answers. AccountingWEB reader atleastisoundknowledgable launched a rant about the covert nature of the grant announcement.
“How the hell did I not know about the £1k-£3k post-Covid grants for SMEs to spend on strategy/business plans/forecasts etc?” they commented. “I found out the day after initial applications shut for Manchester. That's a lot of business that I've not added… I'm furious with myself.”
Paul Crowley responded that if the scheme was that well known, accountants would have received calls from clients asking how to claim them.
Johnt27 said that this was similar to other Covid-19 incentives where the money actually given differed depending on the business’ region: “I’ve given up with these and am pointing clients towards the (more generous) grants in relation to implementing technology connected to making customs declarations post Brexit.”
Cheshire asked fellow Mancunians: “Don’t you find the councils in and around Manchester hide stuff?”
Another member suggested regularly searching Gov.uk for the words grant, scheme, or save, claiming it to be “the only way” to find out about such things.
While some users united in the outrage of not knowing about the announcement, Memyself-eye assured the original poster that “there are all sorts of grants” in place and that accountants can’t be expected to know them all.
Even with adequate access to the scheme, however, many accountants complained that the amount of money on offer was far too low to actually help each and every struggling business.
Have any of your clients been able to get their hands on the loan? How useful has it been in building back their business?