Leeds Digital Enterprise (LDE) operates a voucher scheme whereby businesses in the LDE area can be reimbursed between £1,000 – £5,000 spent on digital projects.

According to the Leeds Digital Enterprise website the scheme is

designed to help eligible small firms across the Leeds city region invest in the right digital solution or access the most appropriate area of knowledge around digital technology, that can support their growth and development.

The first phase of the scheme ended on 24th March 2017.  By this date, the team at LDE simply had far too many applications to process if the scheme was to run as planned originally.  Hence a decision was made to close phase 1 of the scheme prematurely.

Phase 2 of the voucher scheme will start in June or July 2017.  At the time of writing I am assuming the selection criteria for successful applicants, and the amounts they can claim back from LDE, will remain broadly the same.


Phase 1 eligibility criteria

For phase 1 of the scheme, SME’s had to satisfy the following main criteria to be able to apply for a voucher:

  1. Size: less than 250 employees and less than £50 million turnover per year;
  2. Location: must be based in the area covered by the Leeds Digital Enterprise region. This region is actually quite big and goes quite some way beyond the Leeds City area.  The Leeds Digital Enterprise region consists of: Leeds, Craven, Harrogate, York, Selby, Wakefield, Kirklees, Calderdale and Bradford.
  3. Market sector: to be eligible for consideration organisations must be supplying services Business to Business (B2B). There are no restrictions concerning specific vertical sectors as such; so long as a business is supplying goods or services B2B it was eligible to apply for a phase 1 voucher.
  4. State Aid: any potential applicants must be in receipt of less than 200k of state aid by the time of the application.


Phase 1 selection criteria

Voucher applications will be assessed on criteria such as:

  1. Estimated positive impact any digital project is likely to have on the applicant’s overall growth.
  2. Any wider regional economic impact following on from the point above.
  3. The extent to which proposed digital projects will help drive innovation and change within the applicant business.

The digital projects themselves can be almost anything to do with improving an organisation’s digital capability.  It could be a hardware upgrade, application software upgrade, creation of new websites or the purchase of digital consultancy services.


Scheme popularity

Digital Voucher Scheme administrators were budgeting for receiving about 150 applications 7 weeks after phase 1 opened.  In fact, by this point over 400 applications had been made.  There were over 30 applications from the Harrogate area alone, with a total project value estimated at £285k.

If all goes well and IT upgrade and replacement projects work out as planned, it is estimated that phase 1 of the voucher scheme will have supported projects creating over 750 jobs in the LDE region.

It is worth noting here that the digital voucher scheme is supported by EU funding.  So that’s over 750 new IT jobs created as a direct result of funding from the European Regional Development Fund.


My clients have applied and so should you

One of my B2B clients in the Craven area has applied under phase 1 of the scheme.

I’d suggest to any SME in the Leeds Digital Enterprise area that they should apply for a digital voucher when phase 2 of the scheme goes live.  As noted earlier this is scheduled for June – July 2017.


Managing projects properly

Although the funding on offer per digital project is relatively modest, up to £5,000.00 can go a long way in a properly managed project.

The key point of course is to ensure that the digital project is indeed properly managed.

It is easy to squander time and money on IT projects which are poorly managed.  The first step towards avoiding this to draw up a short business case about any new initiative which is likely to incur significant costs.

The business case should be brief, succinct and help you answer questions such as: What business objectives are you hoping to achieve via new or upgraded digital systems?  What options are available to you to achieve the objectives identified? What resources do you need?  How much is the project likely to cost?

I am constantly amazed by how many SME’s do not create business cases for new projects.  This often means the projects are clouded by uncertainty from the outset.  This in turn increases the likelihood of cost, time and resources being wasted to some degree further down the line.

Coming from a project manager this sounds a very self-serving thing to say, but if I were administering the digital voucher scheme I would want to see unmistakable evidence of good project management in place from initial conception of any digital project.  After all, it has been shown many times in many industries that good project management can focus resources, save time and manage costs effectively.

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