Over the past 12 months, grant funding has been vital to the continued operations and growth of many UK businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, plans for 2021 have left many innovating enterprises in limbo, as little, if any new grant calls have been released for either the UK or EU funding schemes. With the current uncertainty of applications and deadlines, what does this mean for businesses looking to apply for grants this year?
As with many things in today’s life in the UK, the delay in grant calls is mainly down to the impact of two events: COVID-19 and Brexit. Firstly, due to the economic upheaval that COVID-19 has had on businesses last year, a lot of the larger UK funding was diverted to smaller-scale relief measures, including the introduction of the pandemic’s continuity loans. Although the grant funding options that were released for 2020 did go ahead, the Government has been slow in announcing any new initiatives.
SMART UK, a grant focused on innovation and R&D, is one of the only calls to be made so far. Although the deadline in May is slightly later in the year than anticipated, this is positive news that the funding is still becoming available to businesses. We predict, however, that the later closing date will mean that there will be only three rounds of the scheme this year (rather than the typical four), leaving money to be diverted to other projects.
Secondly, EU grant funding schemes have been postponed due to the Brexit deal. Historically, the UK has had an agreement with the EU to access its Horizon Europe Programme, which oversees €98bn spread across European businesses from different industry sectors. While negotiations have begun, we are still waiting to find out the final terms of the deal. We predict that UK businesses will be able to access the funding on almost the same terms as before; however, it will be around the end of March before things are expected to start moving.
Although this is the first year in a long time that we cannot yet plan for the next 12 months, businesses should remain positive as there will always be funding available for R&D, it is just in what form remains the question. Looking forward, we are expecting the focus on funding to switch from getting businesses through the pandemic, to what happens as we emerge and how we can keep innovating and growing. In a time of crisis, it is important that a country always looks at how to build its way out, to stop businesses and the economy from stagnating.
It is vital that companies now use this down period to plan ahead. It is an opportunity to get ahead of the competition – really think about upcoming R&D activity your business has in the pipeline and prepare for which grant funding you would like to apply for. At Catax, our specialist team can help you with the entire grants process, from assisting businesses to identify, apply and manage funding projects right the way through to implementing and managing the ongoing project. We would be more than happy to speak to you about the options available to you, and hopefully, help you to receive a cash injection for innovation in 2021 and beyond.