So what follows the demise of Business Link later this month? Good news is that the website resource is being updated and expanded and remains one of the first ports of call for information on a wide variety of business related subjects. www.businesslink.gov.uk This is to be backed up with a telephone service but it is NOT an advice service and merely a navigation around the site for those in need or without access to internet services.
The government is also in the process of procuring a “Business Coaching for Growth” service which will target those companies with the best potential for high growth. This will be formally launched in April next year and should provide excellent support for the SME’s accepted onto the scheme. There is likely to be a company contribution to the cost – which is reasonable – but the quality of assistance is likely to be much higher than that seen with other government initiatives.
Mentoring is now being accepted as a valuable resource and the website www.mentorsme.co.uk is a useful portal. However I have some reservations that this is in effect an unregulated “free for all” and in some cases could be used to gain business by unscrupulous operators or allow poor mentors to operate causing unknown mayhem. It is NOT, as has been suggested by some in government, a replacement for advice services. If quality can be driven up with mentors then again this is a useful addition to the landscape.
I am reasonably ambivalent about the loss of free advice to established businesses that do not display high growth potential. There is a wealth of private sector paid for support available and this should be the first point of call for the majority. Unfortunately the good work done by regional Business Link operators was often undone by the need to chase numbers, providing a light touch – often rated poorly by recipients. When you pay for support you value it more highly and take an active interest!
My biggest worry is the lack of a national start up service designed to help and support those entrepreneurs taking the first tentative steps on the road to self employment. I know that there are schemes for the unemployed but initial feedback indicates that self employment is dropping off the radar – unbelievable with jobs in short supply. However we should not wait for people to become unemployed before encouraging business start ups. We need to stimulate enterprise and for those facing redundancy, looking to change lifestyle or spinning out of a larger business or public sector environment starting a business is a logical step.
What is needed is a solid grounding, help with establishing the demand for the product or service and access to funding to give these start ups a better than normal chance of surviving. The 1980’s saw an explosion in self employment, reducing the jobless figures and stimulating a “can do” attitude instead of the current dependant nature which appears to have infiltrated many areas of society.
Fill this start up gap and I believe that the government is close to covering the majority of the bases which should be expected by a pro enterprise administration. If it does that then the demise of Business Link face to face services will not have much of an impact. Fail to do so and you risk choking the supply chain of innovation which this country so desperately needs.