26th October 2010

For those of you expecting the CSR to bring some clarity to the future of business support, I am sorry, but hardly surprised, that you’ve been disappointed. In the same way that cabinet ministers have been scrambling over the last month or two to defend their departmental budgets, we shall now have a scramble within the departments as junior ministers and civil servants join the internal fray. Expect it to be Christmas before there is any break in the fog.

We do know some things however: EEDA are under sentence of death by March 2012 and are winding down their activities rapidly and will take the Business Link contract with them. We can expect a revised and more user friendly Business Link website and smart money is on the creation of a supporting call centre. There is talk of a network of growth hubs to provide more specialist support to growing businesses and exploit university research but the detail is glaring in its omission. The more traditional support so valued by start up and early stage businesses in the form of individual advice and business planning training looks in severe danger despite David Cameron calling for an age of entrepreneurship. I do not favour government support for established businesses as they should be in a position to pay for help but for those people that the country needs to set up their own business there looks as though there will be a vacuum which it is unlikely to be filled to any great degree. This is short sighted as encouraging enterprise is vital to our future – especially in areas such as Norfolk where we cannot rely on inward investment to any great degree and have a real need to “grow our own” entrepreneurs.

There has been some talk of mentoring and this is something that we value highly but it is not a panacea and it is not cost free. Volunteers need to be trained and managed, mentees need to be screened and matched. And that’s a professional job. Which leads us on to the Enterprise Allowance – something for which I have been lobbying for the last four years, details are slow to emerge but it would be a disaster if this was merely an add-on to some multimillion welfare to work contract given to a multinational outsourcing organisation. If you want to make a difference, you have to get local organisations to engage with local people.

And talking of local, the LEP story is yet to unfold. We await the White Paper which will tell us more, I hope, about their role and responsibilities and whether the Regional Growth Fund can support enterprise activities. Not least if the East of England can expect to receive anything other than a token amount with the majority of funding going to the North East and North West. With funding for local authorities due to decrease substantially, the end of government funded streams such as LEGI which has had a major positive effect in Norwich and Great Yarmouth and the EEDA funded “Encouraging Economic Participation” finishing in March the immediate outlook is not good. With no county strategy for encouraging enterprise and start up businesses Norfolk needs to implement radical and far reaching policies in the short term if it is not to fall further behind its competitors.

The White Paper on Sub National Growth is due for publication on 28 October. It is required bedtime reading for local policy makers who need to elevate ambition and build on the latent potential evident in our Fine County

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