A good idea: But The Curiosity Box’s Renee Watson says using kickstart was “like pulling teeth.”
Fantastic.’ That was Renee Wilson’s enthusiastic response to the government’s kickstart program last year.
“It seemed like a great opportunity for us to bring new employees into our company and to try out roles that we would otherwise not have been able to afford,” she recalls. “It felt like a win-win situation.”
What is frustrating is that the scheme didn’t deliver. Despite registering in November, Renee has not yet been able to recruit anyone for The Curiosity Box, an Oxfordshire-based company she founded five years ago that offers hands-on science activities for children. Business boomed last year due to home education.
Renee is not alone. A number of small businesses told The Mail on Sunday that they were disappointed with the program.
The Ministry of Labor and Pensions, overseer of the initiative, also admitted to The Mail on Sunday that so far only a fraction of the applications approved have resulted in people being hired.
The Curiosity Box wanted to attract five people to create videos and graphics, as well as market research and social media. The application was made through a Kickstart Gateway (Oxford City Council).
This was because the original rules of the system required companies hiring fewer than 30 people to partner with other employers. The system has now been changed so that companies can apply directly. Renee’s job ads finally went live late last week, six months after applying.
“I don’t know what caused the robbery,” says Renee. “It was like pulling teeth.”
She adds, “It was angry. Nobody recruited stopped us from growing. We missed a lot of business opportunities. ‘
Joe Darwen, founder of Veo.world – an online marketplace where people can buy sustainable fashion, beauty, groceries and household products – is also disappointed.
He signed in November to hire a content producer and graphic designer to improve the company’s website. But he has only just seen his job adverts run at the local job center in Rusholme, Manchester.
“I have no idea what caused the delay, but it took more than five months for the job advertisements to appear,” says Joe. “It feels like a lottery how fast the process takes.
‘It’s also frustrating as the company’s requirements may have changed since the application process began. The job center actually contacted us and asked if we still needed employees for these roles, as it took so long. ‘
Imogen Tinkler started the seasonal grocery company Bangers and Balls with her husband Duncan in 2017 when the family moved from London to Whitstable, Kent. The company operates outdoor food pop-ups, has a mobile kitchen, and provides meals to local people.
She says: “I had read about Kickstart and was a little annoyed that I couldn’t participate because of the 30 job rule. But I heard food companies banded together to apply through gateways and we thought we’d give it a try and look for a marketing assistant. ‘
It took four months for the advertisement to go online. “It’s been a long time,” she says with a little understatement.
“Over the months, I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. It was frustrating and having financial implications as we were about to start things that we had to reset. ‘
They eventually hit gold and got Alicia on board. Although Imogen envisioned hiring someone locally, the fact that Alicia lives in Falmouth, Cornwall wasn’t a problem. While they have never met in real life, they all have lunch together on Zoom once a week.
“We hope to be able to employ her full time after six months,” says Imogen. “Without Kickstart, we would never have dared to do this. It gave us real momentum and she helped grow the business by blogging about our vision and commitment to food and sustainability. ‘
Not all small businesses have found the process difficult. Owen Geddes is the co-founder of London-based digital marketing company Screen Moguls, a company originally founded to provide bespoke advertising technology to film distributors such as Disney, Paramount and Universal.
When the pandemic hit, the company instead focused on digital marketing for small businesses. Screen Moguls was one of the first companies to apply through a kickstart gateway.
By November last year, around 200 applications had been received for each of the five positions on offer. Owen says, “Of those we recruited, three left, and that’s a risk as some people use it as a stepping stone. But the two who are still with us are amazing.
“We’re both moving to permanent, full-time contracts to give them a raise, and we now want to hire more through Kickstart.”
Earlier this year, Therese Coffey, State Secretary for Labor and Pensions, admitted that the system was “lagging behind”. Last week, DWP told The Mail on Sunday that it took an average of 21 days to process applications from March 16.
It is said that more than 195,000 applications have been approved since the program began, but so far only 16,600 people have actually started Kickstart.
Emma Jones, founder of the Enterprise Nation Business Support Network, says, ‘There’s a lot of appetite for Kickstart. The problem is the paperwork. ‘For details on Kickstart, see.
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