IN last week’s Budget, the three-part plan to protect and then grow our economy had the important role played by small and medium-sized business very much at its heart.

This last dreadful year I have seen the heroic efforts made by such businesses to adapt to the enormous challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve seen that here in North Yorkshire – retailers, manufacturers and the service sector – who have had to re-think the way they do business to reach their customers in existing and new markets. Businesses which developed from scratch online offerings which have helped see them through the past year and now leave them well placed for the recovery.

Encouraging many other businesses to adapt in similar ways as we emerge from the pandemic is the inspiration behind the Help to Grow measures I announced last week.

Help to Grow: Digital will provide small businesses with free impartial advice on how technology can boost their performance through a new online platform.

Eligible businesses employing five to 249 people will also be able to get a discount of up to 50 per cent on the costs of approved software, worth up to £5,000. Vouchers are initially expected to be available for software that helps businesses:

Build customer relationships and increase sales

Make the most of online sales

Manage their accounts and finances digitally.

Full details on the businesses and software eligible for the voucher will be published this summer.

Help to Grow: Management will give small businesses access to a 12-week programme delivered by leading business schools across the UK. The programme will combine a practical curriculum, with one-to-one support from a business mentor, peer-learning sessions and an alumni network.

Designed to be manageable alongside full-time work, the programme will support small business leaders to develop their strategic skills with modules covering financial management, innovation and digital adoption. By the end of the programme participants will develop a tailored business growth plan to lead their business to its full potential. The 30,000 places – 90 per cent subsidised by government – will be available over three years. Both programmes will start by the autumn; and I’d urge interested businesses to register at Gov.UK/HelpToGrow.

KIPLIN HALL, between Northallerton and Richmond, has always been a favourite place to visit for my family, so I was very pleased to be asked to contribute a short video to the virtual opening of a new exhibition. The Annie Marchant Collection of kitchen and dairy artefacts was recently acquired by the hall and a great deal of work has been done in the last year by staff and volunteers to prepare the exhibition for when Kiplin is able to open fully.

Annie Marchant was a renowned collector of Victorian domestic antiques and her gift of the collection to the hall is a wonderful gesture. The collection provides an insight into the daily lives of the people who worked and lived at Kiplin in the past. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it with my family in the future. The hall and gardens is set to reopen its grounds on Monday, March 29, with the museum opening just as soon as restrictions permit.