Gove unveils £20m Brexit fund to help SMEs
Seafood companies staged a demonstration in London
UK government minister Michael Gove has announced a £20 million SME Brexit Support Fund to ease financial pressures caused by the chaos over new trading arrangements with the EU.
Two surveys published this week have revealed that half of businesses are struggling to cope with the new customs, rules of origin, and VAT rules when trading with the EU.
SMEs which trade only with the EU will be encouraged to apply for grants of up to £2,000 for each trader to pay for practical support including training and professional advice.
The government said the fund follows extensive engagement with individual businesses, organisations and trade associations from all parts of the UK.
The fund will be administered through the pre-existing Customs Grant Scheme and will open for applications next month.
It has been set up to help businesses prepare for the new import controls coming into force from April and July, as set out in the Border Operating Model.
The government said: “Having taken back control of our borders, we made the pragmatic decision to introduce new import controls in three stages up to 1 July 2021 to allow traders and hauliers time to adjust to new processes. This means businesses do not have to complete new import declarations for up to six months, unless they are moving controlled goods.”
Mr Gove, who is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “The Government has listened carefully to the issues raised by the business community through the Brexit Business Taskforce and that’s why we are bringing forward this financial support to help small businesses adapt to the changes to our trading relationship with the EU.
“This new targeted funding will see small businesses get more of the practical support they need to adjust to the new processes and prepare for further changes as we implement our own import controls in April and July.
“Together we will seize new opportunities available to a fully independent global trading United Kingdom.”
Members of the Brexit Business Taskforce welcomed the additional support. Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The new fund will make a significant difference, and we are pleased that Ministers have really engaged with us on this, and come up with an excellent response.”
Mike Cherry: ‘significant difference’
David Wells, chief executive of Logistics UK, said: “Logistics UK welcomes the additional support that is being put in place to help SMEs make sure they can adapt and succeed in the new trading environment. These issues directly impact the operations and livelihoods of our members who carry their produce into the EU and have to be confident that the correct paperwork is in place.”
Allie Rennison, head of trade policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “This support package delivers on the IoD’s longstanding campaign to help SMEs access the professional advice needed in managing a suite of changes arising from Brexit.”
Against continuing complaints of delays and obstructions over cross-Channel trade, the government said that in the last week overall freight flows between GB and the EU have reached 98% when compared to the same time last year.
“There is still no disruption at ports and compliance with new rules remains high thanks to the continued efforts of hauliers and UK traders,” it said in a statement.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “While this announcement is a welcome start and recognition from the UK Government that SMEs need financial help, greater support will be needed if businesses are to successfully navigate the new administrative barriers to trade that they now face.
“The UK Government must act now and fast to distribute this fund as quickly as possible – SMEs cannot afford to wait weeks and weeks at this time.
“Local Chambers across Scotland and the UK are standing by to offer direct support with customs and trade.”