Rishi Sunak’s small business management training scheme has awarded an £8 million contract to a consortium of support agencies to recruit thousands of voluntary business mentors.

The contract from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has gone to Newable, the enterprise development agency set up in 1982 under Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council and still owned by the capital’s 32 boroughs. It is working with Enterprise Nation, the small business platform, and the Association of Business Mentors.

The consortium now has to recruit enough volunteer mentors by August to provide ten hours of quality advice to the thousands of small business owners taking part in the 12-week “Help to Grow: management” training scheme, which was launched by the chancellor in 2021.

In its first year of operation, the hundreds of mentors involved were paid for their time. The scheme is delivered by business schools nationwide and aims to engage 9,000 small business owners a year for the next two years. They pay £750 for the course, with the rest of the cost covered by taxpayers.

Newable is run by Chris Manson, a serial entrepreneur and former commercial manager at Chelsea FC, while Enterprise Nation is led by Emma Jones, who campaigns on behalf of small businesses and the self-employed.

Access to the scheme is patchy in some regions, with government officials expecting only 125 businesses to take part in the northeast of England between April this year and March 2023, compared with 380 in the northwest and 1,000 businesses in London and the southeast of England.