The Chancellor held a virtual roundtable with small businesses to launch Help to Grow: Digital, designed to support smaller businesses adopt new tech to help them thrive.

Rishi Sunak hosted the call with over 30 businesses from across the UK at CineBowl in Uttoxeter on January 20th to mark the launch of the scheme, where he spoke to people on a big screen about their experiences before taking part in a Q&A session. The scheme includes a dedicated website providing free advice and support and software vouchers to boost productivity and help businesses grow.

Participants included an accountancy firm, a catering and cookery school, a hair and beauty salon and a web designer and posed questions covering a range of topics from how the scheme will be delivered to the digital economy. They joined from across the UK including Edinburgh, Bristol, Bolton, Norwich, Brentford, Peterborough, Brighton, and Yorkshire.

Following his visit, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said: “Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy, creating jobs and prosperity across the UK.

“When I announced this at Budget I said we wanted to help businesses become more innovative, more competitive and more profitable and I am excited this programme allows them do that. It’s been fantastic to speak to firms from across the UK and discuss how the scheme will benefit them - adopting new technologies is proven to improve processes and boost productivity.” 

Whilst in the area, the Chancellor also toured the former Spode pottery factory in Stoke to see how a £20 million investment from the Levelling Up Fund will help transform the historic site into new homes, shops and a community space. This will help spread opportunity, create jobs and boost the local economy. The funding will also help transform the derelict Crown Pottery works in Longton to make way for new homes and a community space, alongside new apartments in the Grade II listed Tunstall Library, creating an attractive place for residents to call home.

Mr Sunak also chatted to local business owners at the Quarter @ Potbank café, animation company Carse & Waterman and Spode Museum where he heard about how the regeneration of the area will increase footfall. The Spode regeneration project is one of three successful Levelling Up Fund bids for Stoke, worth a total of £56 million, with £20 million going towards the regeneration of Hanley in the city centre and £16 million to redevelop the Goods Yard near the railway station.

They are three of 11 projects in the West Midlands to receive a share of £196 million from the £1.7 billion first round of the Levelling Up Fund, as announced by the Chancellor in October’s Budget. This builds on a record investment in local transport infrastructure in areas outside of London, including £29 million through the Transforming Cities Fund to improve the area around Stoke-on-Trent train station.

The area will also receive up to £50,000 feasibility funding to consider the case for reinstating passenger rail links between Stoke and Leek, as announced at the Budget in October.