17th January 2009

A subject which I have been meaning to touch upon for a while is that of the New Entrepreneur Scholarship Fund (NES). This programme has run for the last 5/6 years and has been funded by the Learning and Skills Council. Run by the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies (NFEA) in partnership with the Princes Trust and Association of Business Schools it has been one of the most successful programmes that I have had the pleasure of being involved in.

In brief, individuals from the most disadvantaged areas of the country go through a programme of training and 1-1 support combined with a £1500 bursary to help them start in business. They even have the opportunity to gain an NVQ 2 or 3 qualification. The figures are impressive:

– 75% of participants start up in business
– 86% are still trading after 3 years and 76% after 5 years
– the majority were unemployed or economically inactive when starting the scheme
– over 5000 businesses started
– all this for a unit cost of £6500.

Unfortunately this programme has now ceased due to lack of funding – and it was only £5/6m per annum. In a time when jobs are being cut, self employment is an increasingly attractive option and of course it has the added benefit of creating even more jobs via business growth. The logic of stopping this in the teeth of the worst recession for a generation seems madness when we are spending billions on untried and intangible new projects.

Let us hope that there is someone with a modicum of sanity at BERR, government or in the Conservative party who will champion the return and indeed expansion of this scheme at a time when the country desperately needs it. “Tried and tested” is a sensible policy to have when all around are experimenting and mortgaging our future. Just think what £50m a year could do to regenerate struggling areas. Then again who said logic ever enters any political decisions!

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