BT in fresh drive to support 124,000 small businesses in Northern Ireland

Gary McDonald Business Editor

TELECOMS giant BT has unveiled a package of support to help more than 124,000 small businesses in the north to get better positioned for recovery and growth following the coronavirus outbreak and as they prepare for a post-Brexit future.

The Small Business Support Scheme will see the introduction of a range of new measures to help Northern Ireland SMEs boost their connectivity, cash flow and confidence.

The action plan also 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 ultra-fast business connections, as well as access to free resources such as business mentoring, digital skills, marketing tools and mental health support.

But the announcement - which has been welcomes by business leaders in the north - came on the same day that BT revealed that it has taken a massive hit from the Covid-19 crisis, as the money it made from its sports division reduced.

With little sport on TV, pubs, clubs and private viewers stopped using BT Sport to the same extent, hitting revenue hard.

And partly as a result of that, overall revenue dropped 7 per cent to just over £5.2 billion in the first quarter. Profit before tax also took a hit, down 13 per cent to £561 million.

On the SME scheme, BT Enterprise's Northern Ireland director Paul Murnaghan said: “Small businesses are the beating heart of our economy, high streets and communities, but the past few months have been among the most challenging in living memory for them.

“As they employ the majority of private sector workers here, their success is key to securing Northern Ireland’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Small businesses deserve the support of each and every one of us to help them thrive into the future.

“At BT, we can use our technology, scale and expertise to help SMEs kick-start recovery and growth by boosting their connectivity, cash flow and confidence.

“We’ve listened to the needs of small businesses and are stepping up to deliver a support scheme which should have something for everyone - whether you’re a sole trader, tech-start up, micro business or a larger firm.”

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the NI Chamber of Commerce, said: “The past few months have been the most challenging in living memory for businesses, so BT’s commitment to supporting SMEs through these tough times will be particularly welcome by the sector.

“The Small Business Support Scheme is directly targeted at a number of the pressure points facing businesses now. Its assistance with relieving cash flow pressures for suppliers and improving digital skills across a wider business base is extremely important.

“As thousands of businesses here look to digitally transform operations and how they service customers, BT’s continued focus on connectivity is also going to be central.

“I encourage small businesses from every sector across Northern Ireland to take advantage of the expertise and support on offer.”

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