The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has revealed plans to go ahead with a £30 million advice programme in England to test a variety of approaches to helping SMEs overcome barriers to growth.

Computerworld UK revealed in April that the Department was engaging with the market to see how the programme could work, but it has now issued a contract notice and is looking for delivery partners to join the programme.

Since coming into power the coalition government has made it one if its flagship policies to provide support to SMEs, as it believes they can provide stable economic growth and jobs for the future. This push has largely focused on the bourgeoning technology start up scene in east London, dubbed Tech City, and helping SMEs win more government contracts through initiatives such as the G-Cloud and Digital Services Framework.

The government hopes that the external advice programme will:

Increase the growth of businesses participating in the schemeTo develop a better understanding of how to encourage firms to seek advice, and what types of advice and delivery models work bestTo create a more dynamic and competitive market for business advice that will help small firms overcome some of the known market failures that currently exist

BIS believes that small firms are currently deterred from seeking advice because they don't know what is available, it is difficult to see how it would benefit them, they don't know who to trust, and they can't assess value for money.

Being dubbed as the Growth Vouchers programme, BIS will focus on helping micro and small businesses with up to 49 employees. It will make use of subsidies, worth up to £2,000 each, to provide businesses with up to 50 percent of the cost of obtaining external advice from suppliers in the private sector.

BIS has carried out research that identified five areas that small businesses find difficult and need additional help and support with, which will be the main focus of the Growth Voucher programme:

1) Help with raising finance to fund business activities2) Developing an effective marketing strategy to increase sales3) Exploiting the internet and digital technologies to improve business performance4) Increasing the capability of the management team by carrying out an audit on skills or reviewing current business strategies5) Expanding the workforce and taking on new employees

BIS is looking for at least 25,000 businesses to participate in the programme by March 2015. It will be across the North West, the West Midlands, East of England, London, and the South East.