Businesses across Scotland have been unable to access critical grant funding after the DigitalBoost programme closed for applications.
The grant scheme, which launched Tuesday 12th, offered businesses funding to invest in improving their digital capabilities and overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The scheme, which is jointly-run by Business Gateway and the Scottish Government, had £10 million at its disposal, which could be accessed by companies ranging in size.
Through DigitalBoost, VAT-registered firms were able to apply for up to £25,000 in funding while non-registered firms were also able to apply for up to £5,000 through the scheme.
Although applications opened at noon on 12th January, by 5 pm that day the scheme closed to new applicants.
In a statement on Twitter, Business Gateway said: “The Scottish Government have made an additional £10 million available to businesses through the DigitalBoost programme following the successful £700k pilot phase last year.
“We have had a fantastic response with over 2,400 businesses beginning the application process on a first-come-first-served basis. It has been very quickly oversubscribed and we have therefore paused additional registrations for the grant fund.”
Some business owners have been left frustrated due to the disruption, with some questioning whether the ‘first come first served’ process was appropriate given the circumstances.
DIGIT spoke to Stuart Gilbertson, Managing Director of Edinburgh-based company, Consider-IT.
Gilbertson had hoped to apply for funding through the scheme but was surprised to learn that applications had closed within such a short space of time. Critically, he noted that information on the scheme appeared limited.
“We heard on the grapevine that a grant was available on the morning it was being released,” he said.
“We signed up when applications opened and then liaised with our team to work out what we’d want to use the grant for that would give the most benefit to the business.
“It was determined that a few software applications that we couldn’t have afforded otherwise would have been a massive help pushing us forward in key areas,” Gilbertson added.
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A key issue for the firm was that applications were closed before being able to formally submit a request – an aspect of the process which Gilbertson said was extremely disappointing.
“The team sent out requests for quotes to the various software vendors. We then started filling out the application form whilst we waited on the formal quotes to come back, only to find that by the end of that same day the website was saying that applications had been suspended,” he explained.
Gilbertson insisted that Holyrood or Business Gateway “should have anticipated the madness that would ensue”. He also questioned the planning process and the eligibility process for receiving a grant.
“It is very rare for a grant with such few restrictions and such an easy application process to be published by government, let alone for £25,000. That’s almost unheard of,” he said.
According to Business Gateway, a broad range of expenditures are likely to be accepted. These include:
- Buying software.
- Buying IT, or digital communications, hardware.
- Building an online booking/ticketing system.
- Building an e-commerce website.
- Developing an app.
- Digital Consultancy costs.
- Software or hardware rental (first-year costs only).
- Building or maintaining websites that are brochures or provide information.
- Ongoing annual charges for platforms, hosting or online content management (first-year costs only).
Gilbertson believes the firm was effectively shut out from the process and placed at a disadvantage due to time issues that perhaps were not anticipated by the scheme.
“Had we just decided to buy staff brand new kit from Dell or HP’s website for the sake of it, we’d have been able to submit the grant,” he said.
“But, because we spent time considering how the grant could actually help the business boost our digital side, we’ve been removed from the process due to quotes coming back to us.”
Kyle Robertson, Owner at Evangate Financial Services, echoed Gilbertsons comments on time constraints and found himself in a similar situation with timing.
“I have had to pivot my business under the current Covid environment, and digital transformation funding would have been well received.
“I spoke with a digital consultancy and a contact regarding app development and was awaiting their quotations to submit a proposal. Applications were closed before I had my quotes,” he said.
At such a critical juncture during the pandemic, he noted that grant funding would have been a welcomed assistance.
“I’m a small, non-VAT registered business so that £5k would have been very useful getting these things up off the ground,” Robertson added.