Businesses in Scottish cities are being urged to take advantage of a ‘gilt-edged’ opportunity to improve their broadband and internet services after it was revealed that there had been a surprisingly low uptake of a new free funding scheme.
The £100m UK Government Connected Voucher Scheme initiative, launched in December last year, allows SMEs, not for profit organisations and charities up to £3000 in grant funding to improve their connectivity - allowing them to improve efficiency and customer interaction without the spend.
Edinburgh based communications specialists, Commsworld, an authorised provider for the scheme, is astonished by the slow take up, and is now urging businesses to take advantage of the free money on offer to improve their operations and services.
The Connected Voucher Scheme is aimed at improving broadband and mobile infrastructure throughout the UK. Edinburgh City Council partnered with the government for the pilot scheme and Edinburgh was then included in the ten city official launch in December 2013.
The roll out has continued with another 12 cities, including Aberdeen and Perth, being added earlier this year. The scheme is expected to be extended to all major cities in the UK within the next 12 months.
However, the Financial Times recently reported that the UK government has seen just a 4% uptake of the scheme, amounting to just £3.5million.
Andy Arkle, Commercial Director at Commsworld, is urging businesses to take advantage of the lethargy surrounding the scheme, saying the benefits of faster broadband are obvious, tangible and immediate.
He said: “We provide businesses with better and faster connectivity on a daily basis so we see first-hand the huge difference it can make to a business.
“The major barrier for smaller businesses and not for profit organisations is normally their budgetary concerns, therefore, when the government are offering free cash to remove this barrier it seems absurd that there has only been a 4% uptake in the 22 cities so far.
“This is a gilt-edged opportunity for any business that wants to improve its performance, a vital requirement as the Scottish economy continues to move out of recession at pace.
“But in particular, this is great news for businesses in Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen as they can get in while the money is still there and profit from the relaxed attitude of firms in other cities.”
To be eligible for the scheme businesses must gain one quote from an authorised provider list, the cost must be over £200 with up to £3000 funding available, it must be for a business premises and you must sign up to a 12 month contract. Full details are available on the Edinburgh council, Invest in Perth and Aberdeen Invest websites.
Commsworld are also able to provide more robust and faster connectivity by connecting businesses through its own Fluency network – the only dedicated Scottish network of its type, serving Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Using their own network allows quicker access to data without it being bounced first through servers in London or Manchester and then back to Scotland, which is the case with more traditional bigger providers.
Andy continued: “There are numerous benefits of having faster and more robust connectivity and they are realised almost immediately.
“On the commercial side a business can increase profits by attracting and keeping more customers, improve customers experience by enabling a quicker and more consistent interaction and offer better means for collaboration through video calls and cloud based software and sharing.
“The operational benefits are also huge as it can increase efficiency, future proof the business by keeping it in line with digital enhancements and it can also reduce the cost of software and hardware by using online applications.
“If you can gain these benefits using someone else’s money, surely it’s a no brainer?”
Speaking on the launch of the scheme in Edinburgh, Councillor Frank Ross, Convener of the Economy Committee, said: “This funding means that all small to medium sized businesses in the city who don’t already have a fast connection should now be able sign up with their preferred supplier free.
“We have worked hard to secure this opportunity for local businesses and I would strongly recommend those without a fast connection apply for a voucher as high grade broadband is more reliable, faster and it will make your business more efficient and competitive.”