BT has announced an unprecedented package of support to help 598,000 small businesses, including those in Oxfordshire get ready for recovery following the coronavirus outbreak.

The launch of BT’s Small Business Support Scheme sees the company introduce a range of new measures to help small business boost their connectivity, cash flow and confidence – key concerns which have been identified by Small Business Britain’s recent surveys of its membership.

The launch comes as a new survey conducted by Small Business Britain and BT revealed that 70 per cent of small businesses are expecting another lockdown in 2020.

READ AGAIN: Openreach includes Banbury in 'ultra-fast' upgrade

More than half of those surveyed (53 per cent) do not feel confident in the future of their business.

On the positive side, over two thirds (64 per cent) believe the Covid-19 crisis has increased public awareness and support of small businesses, while more than half (55 per cent) view the changes they have made to their business to adapt to the crisis as positive.

BT’s action plan includes a commitment to pay its 4,500 small business suppliers promptly and within 30 days of being invoiced, to helping firms fund the cost of ultrafast business connections, as well as access to free resources such as business mentoring, digital skills, marketing tools and mental health support.

Jon Pollock, BT director for corporate and public sector in the East of England, said: “With small businesses accounting for more than 99 per cent of all businesses in the East of England, they are the beating heart of our economy, high streets and communities.

“They deserve the support of each and every one of us to help them thrive into the future.”

Banbury Cake:

Richard Tunnicliffe, CBI regional director for the East of England, said: “BT’s commitment to supporting small businesses through these tough times will be incredibly valuable.

“The CBI has championed digital connectivity and skills as indispensable to all sectors of the economy and in every part of the UK, and this initiative focused on support to smaller firms is particularly welcome.”

READ MORE: New owner found for historic windmill

BT’s Small Business Support Scheme features the following measures:

*Funding ultrafast business connections: BT is helping small businesses fund the cost of an ultrafast business connection, by subsidising the total cost by up to £2,500 per customer. This extends the benefits of the Government’s popular Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which closed in May, to provide further financial respite to firms like graphic design agencies who need Gigabit speeds of up to 10Gbps.

*Launching bursaries for UK tech start-ups: BT is introducing a new bursary scheme to give 1,000 UK tech start-ups and entrepreneurs a financial head start. From October, eligible companies can apply for a bursary to benefit from free fibre broadband and mobile bundles. Further details will be announced in due course.

READ AGAIN: A shared workspace is opening close to Oxford station

*Introducing BT Halo for Business: BT has launched the UK’s only converged fibre broadband, mobile and digital phone line bundle for micro-businesses, which represent 91 per cent of all businesses in the UK. By combining three powerful connections in one package, Halo helps businesses stay better connected inside and outside of the workplace, so that they never miss an important call or a sale.

*Helping small businesses to go cashless: BT is preparing to launch a new digital payments solution, to help small businesses move to cashless transactions.

This is a trend which is accelerating as a result of the pandemic, with 25 per cent of small businesses increasing their use of contactless payments.

*Supporting small businesses through mentoring: BT is introducing a new mentoring scheme for small businesses, to provide them with free access to its expertise across strategy, marketing, sales, and more.

*Helping small businesses acquire new digital skills: BT’s ambition is to reach one million small business owners and their employees with digital skills by 2025, with 46 per cent expecting to increase their use of digital tools following the pandemic.

Banbury Cake:

Commenting on new support package, Mr Pollock said: “At BT, we can use our technology, scale and expertise to help small businesses kick-start recovery and growth by boosting their connectivity, cashflow and confidence.”

READ AGAIN: New plans to overhaul Oxford train station

BT-backed Openreach has included Banbury in its commercially-funded Fibre First programme.

It is part of a wider programme which will bring ‘ultra-fast, ultra-reliable’ full fibre broadband connectivity to 3.2m homes.