7 April 2009

The government has recently launched its “Solutions for Businesses” product portfolio which is the result of much consultation under the Business Support Simplification Programme. On reading the proposals it is difficult to see much to argue with; the product range is rationalised, it hits the main elements of support that a new, growing and maturing business will need and it is simple to understand. So why is it that I still retain some element of doubt that we will see real change?

Perhaps it is because the path of history of successive governments is littered with good intentions. So often we see attempts to improve the way that things are done in many areas but unless you alter the mindset of those charged with administering the delivery then little will change for the end user other than the “spin”.

In “Solutions for Business” we have a good framework from which to start really building a business support arena worthy of the ambition to make the UK a leading place to start and grow a business. The big test is can different government departments resist the urge to add pet projects, create new streams and smother with bureaucracy? Already the initial portfolio has had an addition with the advent of a “Support for the Automotive Industry” product. Why this funding could not have been added to an existing strand such as the excellent Manufacturing Advice Service (MAS) I do not understand. The desire to create a headline with something “new” overrides the common sense approach every time. Hence my concern and doubts.

To make this work we need real leadership at the top in government with a firm pledge that no new products will be launched for a given period at which time the portfolio will be reviewed to assess the impact and need for change. Of course there will be times when it is right to support a sector or industry undergoing change but this can be done within the existing framework. An announcement of extra funding into an existing product may not gain the attention as much as a “new” launch but it is what business needs and wants and if government is to retain any scrap of credibility it is a change in the mindset of policy makers that is required.

Solutions for Business needs to be seen as the government vehicle for all help and not just a BERR initiative. Perhaps the Treasury could “fine” any department/authority that announces an initiative which does not fit any funding stream into the existing portfolio and that creates a new “brand”. A fine equivalent to the amount pledged should concentrate the mind! As we have finally got to the stage where there is a credible support package it would be madness not to give it wholehearted backing for a given period to determine its impact.

Full adherence to the scheme is envisaged from 2010 onwards but I would hope that all delivery programmes are matched as soon as possible. We do not have the luxury of time in the current climate – what is needed now is immediate action.

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