SMEs are being urged to take advantage of a £2,500 voucher scheme to help install high-speed broadband or risk missing out.
More than 7,000 businesses across the UK are reported to have taken up the government’s £67m Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and have used the cash to cut the cost of installing fibre-optic cables.
Now the government is warning that the scheme, originally expected to be open until March 2021, has been so popular that the money is set to run out a year early.
Take up has been particularly high in the North West of England and Yorkshire, according to reports.
Gigabit vouchers can be used by small businesses and the local communities surrounding them to contribute to the installation cost of a gigabit-capable connection.
And to make sure that as many businesses and homes can benefit the maximum value of the voucher has now been reduced from £3,000 to £2,500.
Businesses can claim the cash against the cost of connection either individually or as part of a group project. And residents can benefit from the scheme with a voucher worth £500 as part of a group project.
The government believes the reduction in the maximum amount will encourage neighbouring businesses to “pool” their vouchers.
A spokesman said: “This will enable the scheme to reach more properties without the need for any additional funding.
“We expect more than 1,000 additional businesses and homes to benefit as a result of this change.”
The scheme is operated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and looks to support the government’s goal to provide ‘nationwide full fibre broadband coverage by 2033’.
DCMS says it will be carefully monitoring take-up following this change to the scheme rules to determine whether there are locations in which a higher voucher value would be justified.
Minister for Digital Margot James is urging businesses to take advantage, saying: “These vouchers provide practical and immediate help to firms struggling with slow broadband speeds. I encourage small businesses around the UK to apply now.”
With the clock counting down towards the start of Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT in April 2019, high-speed broadband access is set to become increasingly important.
But it’s not only for MTD – high-speed broadband is seen as vital in helping SMEs develop and grow in the digital age.
Mike Cherry, who is chairman of the Blackpool-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “Access to good broadband is vital for small businesses across the UK.
“With the clock ticking on this scheme it’s important small businesses don’t delay if they want to apply for funding.
More information on the Gigabit Voucher Scheme, including details on how businesses can apply can be found at https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/