A Government scheme to help the jobless set up their own firms is to be expanded to assist up to 40,000 new businesses over the next two years, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
Mr Cameron said the New Enterprise Allowance scheme would help make the coming years "some of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history". The Government is pinning its hopes on a swift expansion of the private sector to replace public sector jobs lost as a result of cuts in state spending.
Under the NEA, people who have been claiming unemployment benefits for more than six months will be offered up to £2,000 of financial support - including a start-up loan and a weekly allowance - as well as advice from a mentor with experience in business.
In order to qualify, applicants will have to provide a business plan which their mentor judges to be viable.
The programme will be launched later this month in Merseyside and rolled out nationwide by the autumn. Originally, NEA was planned to be available to 10,000 people a year and cover 40% of the country, but Mr Cameron said it had been decided to double the scale of the scheme with the aim of helping to create 40,000 new businesses by 2013.
Mr Cameron, who has embarked on a regional tour to promote the Government's strategy for jobs and growth, said: "Throughout this year and beyond we will be focused relentlessly on supporting growth and driving job creation across our economy.
"Backing new enterprises to start up and small businesses to grow will be what transforms our economy and will deliver the many thousands of new jobs we will see created this year.
"It is vital that we ensure businesses, and those people who find themselves out of work but have the drive and desire to set up their own business, have all the advice, support and mentoring they need. Together we can make the years ahead some of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history."
Mr Cameron also announced that an overhaul of the Government's online resources for business will be completed by April. More than 170 publicly-funded websites are being streamlined into a single Government site for business at www.businesslink.gov.uk.
The site will provide facilities for online company registration; a business tax "dashboard"; a "contracts finder" to search for public procurement opportunities, information on regulations and training services.