It is just not possible to say exactly how many grants schemes there are out there. For example, the Enterprise Advisory Service’s main database usually contains over 3,000 open at any time not including those offered by local authorities. They can however generally be put into one of three categories.
The European Union is a huge source of funds for businesses of all sizes, and the money is usually distributed through the European Commission. This body administers a number of schemes through what are known as Structural funds. There are also specific grant schemes such as for business involved in agriculture for example.
Grants for small firms come from both the UK government but also the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and each of these has its own departments and agencies, which hand out the money based on their own criteria and objectives. There are over one hundred of these bodies but among the most important are:
- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
- Department for Employment and Learning
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Industrial Development Board
- Scottish Executive
- Welsh Development Agency
- Enterprise Ireland
- Industrial Research & Technology Unit
In addition to the myriad of local government authorities, which are also a potential source of funding, there are a number of locally based agencies and organisations which have been established specifically to support and encourage enterprise at local level. One example is Business Link which has a Grants and Support Directory where you can search grant schemes by sector or location.
See also: Top tips on how to apply for a grant
Each grant scheme has its own set of criteria to determine whether a firm or project is worthy of its money. There is no business or industry sector which is excluded from applying for assistance, The vast majority of schemes apply without major restrictions but on those that do eligibility tends to fall into three main categories – location, size and industry.
The UK is divided up into four separate countries and in addition to those schemes offered by the UK national government and those from Europe, each of these four areas has awarding bodies and donates funds to businesses based within their borders.
On top of this there are a number of ‘special areas’ across the UK which are specified by the awarding bodies themselves and can be drawn up just for one particular scheme. This just adds to the confusion and can make it pretty difficult to determine whether or not your business is located within the required boundary, so the only way is to contact the awarding body to find out.
Certain areas in the UK also qualify for funding because they satisfy criteria for special assistance drawn up by the European Commission on National Regional aid which breaks down Europe into tiers 1, 2 and 3. The main form of aid in these areas is Regional Selective Assistance – a discretionary grant aimed at safeguarding and creating jobs and increasing regional prosperity. For example tier 1 areas include Cornwall, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Wales and the Valleys.
To complicate things even further the government and the EU has also designated areas for schemes called European Structural Funds know as Objective 1, 2 and 3. Objective 1 is for all intents and purposes the same as tier 1, but, though there are overlapping parts, 2 and 3 are different
A bit more straightforward this one. Basically certain schemes are restricted to small and medium sized enterprises, which employ fewer than 250 people. There are also other schemes which restrict this definition further by only dealing with firms employing say 50, 20 to ten, or fewer members of staff.
The third main eligibility category is the type of business the firm is involved in. Though there are a few schemes, which specifically exclude certain sectors or industries, generally funds tend to be more industry specific and established to tackle particular problems or issues affecting a particular type of business.