Tories announce plans to scrap Business Link

February 15th, 2010 | 32 comments Source: BAD News

Shadow Minister for Business and Enterprise Mark Prisk has prioritised the scrapping of Business Link if the Conservatives come into power.

In an interview with The Sunday Times newspaper, Mr Prisk said that Business Link “is failing in its task” and he would like to see the return of business support being delivered by local enterprise agencies and local councils. He went on to say that Business Link is little-used and unpopular in the small business community, and that the Tories will fund business support through local agencies and councils for the first three years following the axing of Business Link, which currently costs the taxpayer £190 million annually to run.

Prisk says that it is time for civil servants to “halt the meddling” in how small businesses are run and that Government should take a “more hands-off” approach to small business support.

This announcement clearly has major implications for how business support might be run in the future, not just for Business Link, but also for the many other local and national support agencies that currently operate in the support sector.

But more importantly it has major implications for the UK’s small and micro business owners and start ups of the future, the very people that business support services and agencies are meant to serve.

For more on this story go to:

Cobweb is seeking views on this announcement, if you would like to comment, please do so below.

32 Responses to “Tories announce plans to scrap Business Link”

  • Gerry Chimedza

    I currently work for Business Link in the South East of England and I am strongly against the Torries plans to scrap the service. As I work in the frontline I encounter numerous business seeking help and advice to grow thier businesses. With current climate and banks not willing to readily lend to SME’s they have to find alternative ways to grow – and that where Business Link comes into the equation.Unemployment is high and as a result if the government cannot provide support to these businesses a lot will go out of business which will in turn put even more presure on the benefits system. I also speak dozens of people who are refered to Business Link by the Job Centres who majority have been made redundant. As they need income they are encouraged to go self employed and we advise such people on how to do and encourage and provide them with tools they need to succeed. Personally I have spoken to people who where at that stage and have now flourished to become established business thanks to support and advise we provide. As such companies grows they will in turn employ people and in the long run reduce unemployment in this counrty. Secondly in this current climate what SME can afford to pay consultancy fee’s when they can barley manage their cashflow. That is what our leaders need to consider as well before cutting the service that we provide.

    Comment was posted on Sunday, May 23, 2010 2:45 pm
  • Graham Robinson

    Having attended my first enterprise day run by Business Link today, i have to say that i was very disappointed with what i experienced. I sat with an advisor for 15 minutes and it soon became obvious that she had no idea of what i was talking about, no advice was forthcoming. i was left with the feeling that she was just there

    Comment was posted on Saturday, April 10, 2010 10:31 am
  • Barbara Stewart

    The last time the Tories were in power they wasted million of pounds paying local groups to provide training etc. that in our experience provided poor value. Our complaints about the quality of the training we received were dismissed. Now we only use further education colleges or universities for our training where our complaints cannot be dismissed and there is a process which can be improve the quality or compensate us for wasting our time. No assurances government can give will ever encourage us to use local suppliers/advisors ever again.

    Comment was posted on Monday, March 15, 2010 3:31 pm
  • Neil Davey

    Re the comment by Susan Chapman about ‘Enterprise Agencies always seem for the big boys’. It’s exactly the opposite; EAs were set up to deal with SMEs and Business Link to deal with larger businesses and to offer specialist services. SMEs, particularly pre-starts, need 1-2-1 face to face advice from an accredited advisor with a business background, not civil servants.

    Comment was posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 3:31 pm
  • Mike Horlock

    I think it is time for the professional organisations to be involved in deciding business support. As a member of the Institute of Business Consultants I think they should help in setting up a structure that helps small businesses. As a person who is a member and outside of the Business Link network I spend a lot of time on business start-up and most people I encounter find that some of the Business Links are unhelpfull. Start-up businesses need help from people who have already run their own business whereas a lot of the people within Business Links are either ex bank employees or from a large organisation background.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 3:31 pm
  • Susan Chapman

    I believe that this would be bad, they are not perfect but do give a point of contact when a small business has a problem, and sorts out someone to talk to with an independant view. This often enables people to see where they are going wrong. The website has brought many details on compliance together and saves time for people who run thier own business as well as working in it. Enterprise Agencys always seemed for the big boys!!!

    Comment was posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 3:32 pm
  • Paul Williams

    I have found Business Link to be very difficult to work with in the past. Now I just don’t bother. They are inefficient, ineffective and very frustrating to deal with.

    Comment was posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 3:32 pm
  • Jerry Bennett

    Business Link is a typical bureaucracy, with a few good parts and a lot of pretty useless dead wood. The good bits are first, many of their advisers, and secondly, the website. The rest can go, and the sooner the better. I suspect the best advisers will be used by the Enterprise Agencies, who should have more work to take on, probably as self-employed consultants. This more local delivery will get back to the “Business in the Community” ethos that has been so badly eroded by Government control and funding. In my County (Cumbria), all the Enterprise Agencies are still managing a variety of initiatives, in conjunction with local councils, that BL would never have delivered. Local provision will also improve start-up support substantially – currently the worst it has been for 20 years. As for the website, I have reservations about Mr. Prisk’s solution. It needs a dedicated team to keep it up-to-date, and should not be subsumed into a larger organisation, where it might lose identity. Dare I suggest Cobweb as a possible future home?

    Comment was posted on Monday, February 22, 2010 4:32 pm
  • Martin Barrett

    Scrap Business Link? Very good idea. Nearly £200Million pa? Waste. Time to bugger off and lets get real support. MB

    Comment was posted on Saturday, February 20, 2010 3:33 pm
  • Graham Jessop

    This reminds me of Vyvian from the Young Ones in the first episode, when he is saying how he disposed of the things in the house that he had to look after. Vyvian had to look after the Sausages, plants and goldfish. Neil says, Yeah Vyvian and what did we have for tea on the first day in the flat? And Vyvian says ‘Sausages and plants and goldfish, I’ve disposed of my responsibilities Neil’. Love the idea of giving this job to Prisk and his first thought is to get rid of his responsibilities. It makes you realise how the rest of his time in government is going to pan out if they get in. It probably does need some streamlining, but to get rid of it would be madness.

    Comment was posted on Saturday, February 20, 2010 10:33 am
  • Evaluation is being put ahead of innovation and measurement ahead of creativity. I have experience living in both Portugal and Spain where bureaucracy is weighing down the average sole trader to the point most ideas remain just that and no more. I hope, but fear we are, heading in the same direction with a paranoid and obsessed set of civil servants looking to tick the boxes that say they have satisfied the requirements of their own job description and do no more. I say change but don’t lose this agency, it offers inspiration and ideas that can help to formulate and identify your weaknesses and strengths that friends and family are all too often at strains to admit you have.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 5:33 pm
  • Janice Heyworth

    My experience of Business Link is that its is very much failing those businesses it is supposed to be serving. The advisors are not experts in anything in particular and the signposting service they offer is ineffectual! The training is delivered, more often than not, by unqualified and inexperienced advisors. There is little emphasis on pre/start ups and no emphasis on mentoring or coaching. The reputation of BL is terrible and businesses seem to just use them in an emergency. The trouble is getting hold of any grants seems impossible and BL does not seem to be able to guide small businesses in the right direction.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 4:12 pm
  • David Webb

    Unfortunately BL have the brand but not necessarily the expertise. As may be expected with government organisations, the infrastructure swallows up a significant part of funds that could be applied to the front line. I am told that advisers are often weighed down in the paper-chase because it’s more about ‘ticks in boxes ‘to satisfy government departments or regional development agencies. BL have a ‘consultants register’ that has been suggested denies small business joining due to the strict criteria that difficult to comply with – how helpful is that to small businesses? In my experience local enterprise agencies have the ‘local’ knowledge and experience and often give a range of services far superior to the brand leader. Some advisers are excellent whilst some are pretty poor. Also there is the issue of ‘free’ with BL since free often devalues the service on offer (it’s often said ‘you get what you pay for’….?) and businesses need to take some ownership to show commitment. The website is a substantial resource but to find what you want and how that relates to other information can be challenging, but it’s no substitute for a one-to-one discussion about MY business.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 3:49 pm
  • Having previously worked in various Enterprise agencies I agree they are the best place for start up support and a more direct link to the funding would be better for them as most have a good value for money record. However they are not the best placed for supporting existing mature business and neither are the local authorities who did have this task previously and were less effective than the existing system. In order to save money it may be best to scrap all support for business over 18 months in business and rely on the private sector – through standard charge out rates and consutlancy to fill the gap. Why do we have schemes such as GBI or GRD and then make the process so paper based that you need a support structure to fill in the forms. Also we seem to put too much money to some of the university enterprise programmes which may have a good hit rate of patents, but their commercialisation and creation of sustainable businesses leaves a lot to be desired.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 3:34 pm
  • Graham Jordan

    I too have been an adviser working under contract to Business Link. I found that much of the contract restricted what could be offered or forced clients to attend sessions for longer than they wanted. Unless a measured amount of time had beeen spent, no payment would be made. There was no reward for customer satisfaction. There is a role for a centralised service to provide fact sheets. Outsourcing would be simple. Another problem was the number of enquiries from people who were just thinking about starting a business. If they lacked the commitment to carry through their idea and start the business there was no payment. I felt that it was not my role to force people into an inappropriate business for which they were unqualified or unsuited just to gain revenue for our organisation. All these problems added up to a service that was not really fit for purpose. The idea of moving business support into Enterprise Agencies or Chambers of Commerce will only work if the long arm of bureaucracy and form filling is replaced by answering the quetions put by the clients. And they are all different

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 3:34 pm
  • Emma Smith

    Whilst heartily agreeing with some of the negative comments below reference Business Link, it does have its good points and I know that several of my clients have had good experiences with them. I wonder if Business Link should be pared down to keep the functions it is good at, with functions it is poorer at being scrapped so funds can be released to the local enterprise agencies, which I agree are better placed to support small community business. This could potentially include business Link’s best advisers being redeployed into outposts within these agencies. I think the business Link website is very useful centralised source of up to date advice and it would be good if this was maintained and kept updated.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 10:38 am
  • Peter Kay

    Excellent news, in truth they have become a bit of an irrelevance. This type of structure has never worked successfully, it has become too big and remote from local needs. It is too bureaucratic, policy and organisational culture is centrally dictated from an RDA perspective. The service is just not rooted in local communities and misses out huge chunks of support and expertise that is still clearly needed. There is little emphasis on pre/start ups and no emphasis on mentoring or coaching for example. Advisers have become more concerned with compliance than actual delivery and over reliance on the the brokerage model has serious limitations. The reputation is terrible and people just use them in an emergency or to access grant support. The trouble is that getting hold of any cash has become something of a black art in itself.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 10:35 am
  • Michael Strawson

    I too have seen BL change over the years almost like a jelly fish. As someone else has said the name has changed but in many cases the people have not – a case od “plus ca change, plus la meme chose”. However, some areas do indeed provide an excellent service at ground level. The problems are that some do not, the organisation is too top heavy and of course whitehall keeps moving the goal posts. Alternatives? I am not even sure if RDAs are the right medium. What is wrong with the mainly well respected and well run Chambers of Commerce? They already provide a number of services on behalf of HMG and have stood the test of time. They are local. They are run by local peoiple for local businesses and communities. They have an enormous network of providers and can easily signpost people in the same way that BL does. They can deliver any of the training that UKTI currently outsources at extortionate rates. They are already accountable to members and others. Why do we need yet another body to compete? Roger Langford is right, that the “advisers” made redundant will become the “consultants”; but with one major difference. They will not have the cushion of an employer. They will stand or fall by their own expertise. Make no mistake, it is a competitive world out there. Going it alone sorts out the real professionals from the amateurs.

    Comment was posted on Friday, February 19, 2010 9:35 am
  • Carol e Allen

    As an ex Enterprise Agency adviser who came from a business background and went on to focused business development in SMEs & corporates, I found that whilst BL improved in the early 2000s it remained firmly driven by box ticking and irrelevant measurements issued from central command. The old adage: you get what you measure proved itself repeatedly. BL was at its best when locally controlled (ie rarely) and delivered by specialists in their field (ie not BL employees).

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 5:35 pm
  • Sarah L

    I became self-employed just over a year ago and took advantage of all the support and advice offered through BL (in Kent). It was excellent, and in the absence of BL, I don’t really know where I would have gone for all this advice (i.e. on business start up, tax, CIC’s etc etc). A myriad of different organisations I suspect – but then again I don’t really know anything about enterprise agencies. I was grateful for it all, and to be frank I felt quite privileged to receive it. I have worked overseas (not Europe) and few places provide such levels of support. My only criticism of BL, stemming from my work alongside them in a previous role, is that they appear to try to do everything (or say they can do everything) when they should really focus on what they do best – provide business advice to SMEs/new start ups/. Whatever happens to them in the future, I hope this advice remains available.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 5:16 pm
  • Mike Evans

    My experience over many years in business is that Business Link is a failed model. Staff are not experts in anything in particular and the signposting to others with more knowledge is a function better undertaken by Google! It’s been given ‘last chances’ so many times it’s now time to cut it out.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 5:03 pm
  • No surprises, other than that the Conservatives still manage to get away with positioning themselves as the party that supports small businesses. How can giving more money to local councils be an improvement on Business Link, other than by inflating the budgets and egos of the Conservative run councils? Business Link certainly isn’t perfect, but at least it is improving gradually and all the money does go to businesses – how confident are we that local councils will spend the money on business development?

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:42 pm
  • I used to work for Business Link as an adviser. There were at least twice as many admin as advisers and lots of expensive underutilised IT. Yes scrap it and give it back to the enterprise agencies who, in general, live up to their name and cut admin to the minimum. Keep the Business Link fact sheets etc as they are good.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:40 pm
  • I think that BL has to change or disappear. I also have experienced several different variations of BL throughout the years and have been exceptionally impressed with some and disappointed with others. Certainly the problem currently is that the quality and value added by different regions is too variable. In addition there seems to be different offerings in different areas. I think there is a place for BL but its advisers need to realise that their way is not necessarily the only way of doing things. I have attended training sessions related to my industry, where there are often different approaches to solve each problem, but the adviser/trainer was not open to any alternative. Indeed, anything that was not in their solution was derided. So the bottom line from me is keep them if they can change and adapt to the needs of SMEs; otherwise they will have to go.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:37 pm
  • I’ve always found that Business Link newsletters are some of the most useful and expertly written pieces of information I receive. I would be disappointed to see the organisation destroyed.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:17 pm
  • Jo Reese, Leadership & Management Advisor, Business Link, Wiltshire

    Not all Business Links operate the same services or in the same way. Here in the South West we have highly experienced advisers, both generalists and specialists, with excellent industry background. We get superb feedback from the companies we support, who value our expertise, impartiality and independance. We have excellent working relations with a huge range of suppliers whom we broker in to companies, as appropriate. Perhaps Mr Prisk would like to get out of Whitehall long enough to talk to some of my SMEs who will gladly tell him what a very valuable job we are doing, helping to develop them and grow the local economy.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:10 pm
  • Leszek Wysocki

    Business Link provides a huge amount of support for business. If the support was broken up to smaller more local agencies – there would be less resources available for business and many of these organisations would spend their time reinventing the wheel.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 3:38 pm
  • As an enterprise agency we would welcome the move as we have been starved of funds for the past couple of years whilst everything is being channelled through BL. In the meantime Devon and Cornwall have lost several agencies and the local expertise that went with them.

    Comment was posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 10:38 am
  • Richard Harvey

    Business Link as a brand is still a valuable asset and employs many excellent and business experienced advisers with a very wide range of specialist skills. I do not believe it should be scrapped. It does suffer from chronic over management from the centre with RDAs trying to interpret Whitehall directives and policies and coming out with different strategies. When launched BL was delivered by TECs (I worked for North Notts TEC) which meant the service was strongly locally focussed. There was concern with the move to County areas (subsequently justified by events) and subsequently delivery was taken away from business connected organisations such as Chambers and is now controlled by RDAs. This can work well but often does not, it has now degenerated into a box ticking exercise to meet Government targets that often have no local relevance. After all, one English region is the size of a small European country, would such a country micro-manage a service like this from the centre. Across the world Governments’ efforts with nationalised industries demonstrate the almost total lack of basic understanding about business. Keep the brand and scrap the present administration arrangements, returning to a genuinely local delivery. Perhaps Enterprise Agencies have a role in this, it is up to them to show they can meet the demand.

    Comment was posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 4:19 pm
  • Norman Wilson

    I have been an independent consultant for over 20 years and have experienced all the regimes of Business Link. There are many good people in Business Links. These advisers benefit greatly the companies they work with. However, there has been a great deal of waste as well especially to the slicing of funding as it cascades. I have long felt that the best Enterprise Agencies provide better value for money. They are smaller organistions focused on the well being of the businesses in their area. If they are not themselves well managed they do not survive. There is a huge supply of potential advisers out there, a lot are still of working age and have good early pensions. People with talent are more likely to support a locally run and managed agency than a distant regional organisation. The Business Links are now becoming like most government funded supply organistions the preserve of the large corporates. This does not improve their image.

    Comment was posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 3:39 pm
  • A similar idea was tried 2000. Existing Business Links were required to pitch for their own and other BL franchises with input from existing small businesses. In the North east, Co Durham was won by a national organisation whilst the then Tees Valley won a bid led by a consortium of Small business owners. The idea was to get a contrast between two styles of administration. Sadly as a member of the Teesside organisation I and my colleagues found ourselves unable to deliver the promised level of administration due to the fact that several persons formally in control of the organisation remained firmly entranched and government departments were constantly changing the Goal posts and eating up time and resources with with constant demands for revamped proposals. As business people we could not afford to waste time trying to change a flawed system though we did our best. Roger Langford is correct about the role of the Current Enterprise Services and our experience was that whatever the Govt Business support service was called the same persons ended up running it! Do we actually need these regulatory bodies? I get my business advice, financial support and legal advice from the excellent, independent organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, The Chambers of Commerce, the specific Trade Organisations and the network of Business Clubs UK.

    Comment was posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 10:39 am
  • Roger Langford

    It might be beneficial were Mr Prisk to get his facts correct. Having worked in the Business Link for some 15 years (I no longer work there though) I like most of my colleagues came to the service from industry having spent 25 years in manufacturing. Again like many of my colleagues I entered Business Link to give something back and help businesses grow without being a “consultant”. The role of the current Enterprise Services is predominantly to support inward investors and larger foreign owned firms. They do not have the capacity to service businesses in general so Mr Prisk perhaps needs to consider where he will get these Advisers from. Of course there will be those made redundant from the Business Links…..

    Comment was posted on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 3:40 pm

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