Guide to opening a businesses in Cambridge

With a world class university and a thriving high tech cluster, it is little wonder why so many businesses are opening in Cambridge. In 2015, the Association of Accounting Technicians (ATT) named the city as one of the best places in the UK to start a small business. The ranking was largely attributed to the low number of small businesses failing and a high number of high growth small and medium enterprises. Startups, a leading independent resource for new and growing businesses, also ranked Cambridge as one of the top cities to start a business.

Licences and Permits

Depending on the type of business, a licence or permit from Cambridge City Council may be needed. Market and street trading licences are required when operating a business at local markets or designated street-trading locations. A premises licence is also needed for businesses intending to serve alcohol, provide entertainment to the public, or serve hot refreshments after 11 p.m. New businesses must displace a notice of their application at least 28 days before opening day. For more information about business licences and permits, visit

There are special rules and requirements related to opening a food business. Before opening, owners must register the business premises with the Cambridge Council. Registration is free, but it must be done at least 28 days before the business opens. All food hygiene legislation and regulations must also be followed, and the business is subject to inspection by the Council. An inspection typically takes place within 28 days of receipt of the business's registration. New businesses are required to have a food management system and a written plan outlining the procedures that are in place to ensure food is safe to eat and sell.

Business Rates

Business rates are paid on most commercial property in Cambridge and are collected by the council. Bills are issued to owner-occupiers or leaseholders of shops, offices, restaurants, pubs and bars, factories, warehouses, and other business premises. Business rates are calculated based on the assessed rateable value of the commercial property. This value is multiplied by the national multiplier, which is set annually by the government. Discounts known as business rate relief is available for small businesses with premises that have rateable values of under £18,000.

Health and Safety

Oversight over workplace health and safety is split between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities. The HSE oversees health and safety for manufacturing premises, construction and demolition, dentists and doctor surgeries, car repair businesses, and other larger workplaces. Cambridge City Council is responsible for offices, shops, hotels, pubs and other public houses, catering premises, hairdressers and beauty salons, and other smaller business premises.

By law, business owners and employers are responsible for ensuring business premises are healthy and safe. For example, businesses must ensure that all workplace equipment and machinery are safe and protective equipment is provided. Employers must also provide and share health and safety information and offer training for staff and others that may be visiting or working on the premises. They must also record any workplace accidents and in some cases report them to the local authority. Every business must delegate responsibility for health and safety to a qualified and competent director, manager, staff person, or contractor that can provide health and safety advice.

Supports for New Businesses

A number of programmes and organisations help businesses move towards opening day and during their first months and years in operation. The Cambridge Network and the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce provide opportunities for new business owners to network with other local businesses. The Chamber also offers training courses and seminars on a range of topics, including how to start a business and marketing. Cambridge City Council also delivers training workshops and courses on health and safety, food safety and other topics of interest for new businesses. The Council also provides architectural services through Cambridge City Architects (CCA), and can provide professional design and project management services. New businesses looking to install or improve connectivity services can also apply for vouchers of up to £3,000 as well as free support, training and advice on using digital technology through the Council's Cambridge Destination Digital Programme. Funding for start-ups is available from Grants4Growth, Cambridge Angels, and the Cambridge Capital Group.

The University of Cambridge's enterprise section delivers a number of programmes designed for local start-ups. It provides consultancy services as well as expertise and oversight to industry. Cambridge Enterprise also helps students and university staff commercialise their ideas and expertise. It also provides seed investment to start and run new companies. IdeaSpace is also run by the university. Members benefit from networking opportunities as well as shared workspace sites at the West Cambridge campus and the city centre.

Cambridge is home to a number of accelerator programmes for new businesses. The Alconbury Enterprise Campus is designed for advanced manufacturing, low carbon, and information and communication technology businesses. As an Enterprise Zone, businesses based on the site are eligible for business rates relief. Support services at Alconbury help new businesses recruit staff and find funding. Cambridge Science Park is another sought-after base to commercialise ideas. The St John's Innovation Centre is based at the park and provides an incubator service for high-tech businesses through the GrowthAccelerator programme. Office and lab space is also available at a number of other business parks in and around the city, including the Cambridge Business Park and Cambourne Business Park.

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