12:04am Thursday 3rd January 2013
© Press Association 2013
Thousands more young people could get Dragons Den-style Government loans to help them turn business ideas into reality, David Cameron has announced.
The Prime Minister said funding for the coalition's Start-Up Loans scheme was being boosted by £30 million to £110 million over three years.
The age limit for applying was also being raised from 24 to 30 in response to "high demand", according to Downing Street aides.
Number 10 insisted the initiative was on target to issue more than 2,500 loans by March - despite criticism that only a few hundred worth £1.5 million have been finalised since it was formally launched last autumn.
Some 3,000 people are said to have registered an interest in the money and mentoring packages, which are only available in England and being delivered through charities such as The Prince's Trust. Those whose business plans are deemed "robust" typically receive £2,500 which can be repaid over five years at a relatively low rate of interest.
Mr Cameron said: "Start-Up loans are an important part of my mission to back aspiration, and all those young people who want to work hard and get on in life, so this country competes and thrives in the global race.
"They are a great way to help this next generation of entrepreneurs get the financial help - and the confidence - to turn that spark of an idea, into a growing, thriving business. It is by backing our entrepreneurs and championing small business that we can drive forward and grow the economy, and equip this country for the highly competitive era we are in."
James Caan, one of the Dragons in the BBC show and chairman of the scheme, said: "There has been a major shift in the way business is viewed by the public, and entrepreneurs are now seen as creative and exciting role models; and I am delighted to see that more and more young people are now looking to set up their own business.
"It is only with this renewed focus on youth entrepreneurship, that we will create more jobs and wealth and see the economy flourish once again. Start-Up Loans enable young people to harness their skills, and gives each budding entrepreneur not just a low interest loan, but also the help and support from an experienced mentor to guide them to success."
Labour's shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: "With our economy flat-lining it's essential that initiatives like the Start-Up loans scheme are delivered effectively if they are to provide real opportunities for our young entrepreneurs. That's why it was disappointing that figures released at the end of last year suggested delivery of this scheme, like so many others from this Government, was not living up to David Cameron's rhetoric."
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group