17th June 2010

A really interesting article appeared in the Sunday Times on 6 June 2010. This was an interview with Mark Prisk the small firms minister who began to expand on thoughts first raised in opposition. With the cost of BL estimated at £190m pa can there be significant savings? Well for me the answer is a resounding YES! We have a great opportunity to radically reform business support in this country and my ideas would save c75% of the current BL budget.

The changes which have been mooted to the BL structure are to be welcomed. We do have a good relationship with BL as their main deliverers but we are keen to provide start up support directly once more and return to the enterprising economy last seen some 25 years ago. We are clear in our vision which has been consistent for many years:

– Information can be provided via an improved (over the already good) BL national website. This should be the first point of call for information on a number of business related topics and can perform a similar role to that of the universally acclaimed BBC site. This can be administered nationally under contract to an experienced website company. The budget for this can be agreed but should not be more than say 3% of the current national BL funding of £190m
– Those businesses which have reached a certain stage in their development, say 3 years, should be in a position to source and pay for any business support required. There may be exceptions at key stages such as first export, where generic support can be provided via the BL website and dedicated country export counsellors available via telephone, but in general the rule should be to let the market determine the support required. The budget for this is unlikely to exceed say 5% of the current BL funding.
– Start up support is absolutely vital in an era where the job market is likely to remain depressed for some time. Whilst support for unemployed people will be dealt with under the DWP programmes there is still a need for help for those who wish to leave the world of paid employment and seek self employment. These people are important as they leave vacancies to be filled and will in turn create employment via their own businesses. This is one element often overlooked in “self employment programmes” that on average every business created with help from an enterprise agency such as NWES will in turn create 2 new jobs. Currently BL pays lip service to start up support with a very low percentage of their funding going to support start up business. We would strongly support a separate start up programme to be delivered directly by the enterprise agency network for any individual who is not covered by the DWP programme. This could be delivered for approximately 10% of the current BL budget.
– There is a place for a national “enterprise in education” programme which will stimulate young people to harness their latent enterprising talent. This would require much discussion to agree on an acceptable way forward but should be a consideration for implementation during the lifetime of a parliament. Using our own experience this can be delivered in all secondary schools across the country for 5% of the BL budget.
– Beyond this we would suggest that there is little that should remain from the current BL offer. Therefore there are potential savings of 75% of the £190m currently spent – £140m. In turn we believe that the offer will be more transparent, that there will be little mourning in the business community beyond those with a vested interest, the savings in administration cots and bureaucracy in organisations such as RDA’s, and BIS could in turn be added to the cost savings.

Radical perhaps but now is the time to be bold – its over to you minister!

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