The wheels on the enterprise bus
The last week has seen the latest announcements relating to the publicly funded business support that is now available across the country.
The first was the announcement of the Growth Accelerator initiative which claims it will support 26,000 firms with high-growth potential. This was quickly followed by the launch of the Start Up Loans scheme for young people and Lord Young’s ‘Make Business Your Business’ report on enterprise.
Lord Young is Enterprise Adviser to the Prime Minister and he claims that this is the first comprehensive report into small and medium-sized enterprises since 1971.
That being the case the 50-odd page report takes about five minutes to read and ‘reveals’ how many small and medium-sized firms there are in the country and how important enterprise and entrepreneurship is to the economy, and lists the extent of the support which is now available from Government, such as the new Start Up Loans and some “brand new” Business Link guides to ‘home based business’ and ‘taking on an employee’.
Some of Lord Young’s 40-year insights into entrepreneurship include the following extracts from his report:
Easily said and easily done – 3 good reasons to start up a business today.
- Low start up costs – most businesses now start up on a bootstrap budget for less than £100. With a smartphone and business card in hand you can make sales and set up operations with ease and at home.
- Enabling technology – social media platforms and trading sites offer start ups a powerful route to market. Selling and promoting yourself online is affordable and achievable and successful businesses are being built on Facebook and promoted via Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.
- High level of support – there has never been so much support available to start ups and growing businesses, from the Government, the private sector and from peers. Campaigns such as StartUp Britain and Business in You shine a spotlight on this support.
(Source: Report Appendix ‘A Guide to Starting and Developing a New Business’)
The report makes several mentions of the Mentorsme/Get Mentoring initiative and the Business Link website, particularly with reference to using its Finance Finder and Business Support Finder tools.
Chuka Umunna MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, was far from convinced when he commented ahead of the announcement of the Start Up Loans and Lord Young’s report. He said:
“Since Lord Young told us we had ‘never had it so good’ in 2010, the UK economy has shrunk by 0.4%, we’ve been tipped into a double dip recession and the UK has slipped from 4th to 7th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings”
“The Government has made life more difficult for start ups by dismantling the Regional Development Agencies and other business support which existed under Labour without a proper replacement or transition plan. The Business Link website is no longer being updated, the Government’s mentoring scheme has fallen far short of the numbers initially promised, and the LEPs have not been given the resources to meet their full potential, limiting the amount of support which is available for those wanting to start their own business.”
What is most striking in Lord Young’s report is the extent to which the Department for Business (BIS) has gone in placing its business support eggs in the social media/online basket.
This is despite the latest figures from BIS’s own small business barometer survey which reports that less than 5% of firms have used the Business Link website to search for finance options and less than 1% have accessed the My New Business section of the site. The site’s Finance Finder tool primarily only provides details of various loan facilities available from banks or sources of finance which start ups and the smallest of firms are ineligible to access. And there are hundreds of useful funding sources missing from the directory altogether.
The website’s Business Support Finder tool, for some reason, only lists a fraction of the publicly funded support available and misses out on the extensive variety of support schemes available from non-public sources around the UK.
Without question Chuka Umunna is quite correct to say that the Business Link website is no longer being updated.
With regard to the highly-plugged Business In You initiative only 2% of small firms surveyed were aware of its existence and less than 1% have ever visited the website.
Despite this, the Government and BIS certainly appear to believe in their own hype and seem determined to continue down the online support path for the remainder of this five-year term.
Whether you are a prospective start up, a small business owner or an adviser, you are entitled to make your own mind up. To help you do this have a look at the following links to the business support services which Lord Young and our ministers have decided that we need, but which may also provide useful clues as to why they are being ignored.
The Financial Mentoring Masterclass video is an example of what the Mentorsme initiative has to offer.
The first page of the Business Support Finder tool on the Business Link website has some strange results… support from a Santander overdraft or vehicle contract hire?
StartUp Britain’s bus could be an example of Lord Young’s “High level of support” available to start ups. Run the video to see it.
Whether these examples of ‘support’ inspire you or make you cringe, what’s clear is that after 40 years the wheels on the enterprise bus go round and round, round and round…
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