European regions encouraged to offer SMEs vouchers of up to €10,000 to go digital

Date: Thu, 10/10/2013 - 18:14

The European Commission is publishing a blueprint to help micro-enterprises and small businesses in Europe’s regions grow by using digital technologies
European regions encouraged to offer SMEs vouchers of up to €10,000 to go digital Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn

To ensure funding allocated to SMEs to enhance their e-commerce and ICT capacities is spent quickly and in full, innovation vouchers worth up to €10,000 will be made available for purchasing and learning to make use of digital (ICT) services. Such ICT innovation voucher schemes are being piloted in the Spanish Regions of Murcia and Extremadura.
European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes said: "Small businesses using digital services grow twice as fast, export twice as much, and create twice as many new jobs. Everyone should benefit the way Murcia and Extremadura are benefiting in Spain.”
Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn said: "Giving access to digital technologies is one of the many ways that Regional Policy can help small businesses be more competitive. For 2014-20 the digital agenda and support for SMEs are key priorities for structural funds. SMEs are the lifeblood of Europe's economies and the source of future jobs in our cities and regions."
Going online and using other digital technologies increases competitiveness, exports, and domestic market opportunities. Web-connected small businesses across G-20 countries have 22% higher revenue growth than those with low or no web-use. In Germany, 93% of small and medium-sized businesses with an active web presence increased employment over three years, compared with only 50% of those not online.
The regional voucher schemes would allow small businesses to exchange their vouchers for specialist ICT services such as website development, learning how to sell through eCommerce, or adopting more sophisticated ICT tools for business processes, such as supply chain management and customer relations management.
The Commission is offering regions a detailed blueprint to help implement the scheme, with a workshop the Open Days, 11th European Week for Regions and Cities.
The blueprint will help authorities identify the needs of SMEs to go digital and to assess whether vouchers are fit to address this. The guide outlines how to set up a tailor-made voucher scheme for their region or to expand existing schemes by an ICT window. The value of the voucher may vary according to the needs of the SME and the regional priorities, and the schemes should be made easy for SMEs and providers, supported by light administrative procedures. The vouchers should allow ICT services to be purchased from a range of providers including private companies, universities and research centres.

On average, European companies are only slowly adopting ICT for their business (from 2010 to 2012, there was just a 6% increase in European businesses with a website, another 6% in sharing information electronically within businesses, a 4% increase in the use of Enterprise Resource Planning).
The pilots in Murcia and Extremadura target SMEs willing to invest in e-commerce, more streamlined management processes or enhanced customer services. They were announced on 2 July at the "Digital Agenda: what role for regions and cities" conference. ICT innovation vouchers will cover a majority of the euros invested by SMEs in the project. The associated funding allocated by the regions for the pilots schemes is provided through the European Regional Development Fund.
In addition to facilitating SMEs' access to know-how and technology, the vouchers can stimulate demand for a large range of innovative ICT-related services in all sectors of the economy and cross-border online sales. Such schemes help unfold the potential of the digital single market and thereby contribute to the Digital Agenda for Europe.
In the period 2007-2013 some EUR 14.2 billion Structural Fund investments are earmarked for ICT-related investments, including over EUR 3 billion that should go directly to SMEs to enhance their e-commerce and ICT capacities. In total over 20,000 ICT projects were so far supported thanks to this, with Spain, Hungary and Portugal being in the lead.

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