Allerdale Borough Council’s Executive has agreed this week [21 November] a new funding package to help Cumbrian businesses make the most from digital technology.
The scheme, aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), provides business owners with advice and guidance on digital technology. Each eligible business will receive an audit of their current use of computer systems and advice on what technology is available to help them make their enterprise more effective and efficient. This can include the use of cloud computing, video conferencing, or use of online stores.
A list of the type of companies that are eligible for the support will be provided when the scheme is launched.
The scheme will also look to increase the take-up of superfast broadband. According to a recent survey some 48% of businesses perceive access to superfast broadband as a significant barrier to performance and efficiency. However, despite the fact that the Connecting Cumbria programme is on track to deliver superfast broadband to 93% of Cumbrian premises by the end of 2020, only 45% of homes and businesses have currently signed up to it.
Another ambition for the project is the promotion of the use of wide-area networks, such as LoRaWAN, and Internet of Things technology.
The £835,000 project is part funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme which seeks to improve access to, and use of, ICT technology. The fund is providing £501,000 with a further £334,000 coming provided by Cumbria’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) with money from the government’s Local Growth Fund.
The money includes funding for a member of staff to administer the project for around two years. Allerdale Borough Council will be the accountable body, though the scheme is open to businesses throughout Cumbria.
Speaking about the project, Mark Fryer deputy leader and Executive member with responsibility for economic growth, said: “This is a really excellent scheme and I’d encourage all SMEs to take advantage of the help it can offer. The world of business is increasingly challenging. We have some fantastic companies in Cumbria though the vast majority of them are small and therefore cannot always keep up with the latest ICT technology or know how to make the most of it. That’s why we’re committed to do what we can to help them exploit the technology that is available to ensure they remain as competitive and efficient as possible, as well as open up new markets and grow.”
Cumbria LEP Chief Executive Jo Lappin says: “This important proposed project will help Cumbrian businesses to take advantage of new technology and ICT applications, which can help make their businesses more efficient, productive and hopefully more profitable. Better use of technology will help our businesses go further, faster by freeing up their time to focus on growing their business and accessing new markets.
“It’s vital that we support our local businesses through projects such as this, to make sure that they have access to the latest technology to compete effectively in national and international markets. The LEP has also supported the Connecting Cumbria project, which has, and is continuing, to significantly improve Cumbria’s superfast broadband connectivity.”
The Executive also agreed the company which, after a tender exercise, has been selected to provide the advice to business. For commercial confidentiality reasons, details cannot be provided at this time.
Some 99.7% of Cumbrian businesses are classed as SMEs which is defined as employing 250 or fewer staff, have an annual turnover of less than €50m, have a balance sheet value of less than €43m, and be less than 25% owned by another company or combination of companies. Some 89% are micro-businesses employing fewer than 10 staff members.