Business Link faces the axe under Tory government

Dan Martin
Former editor
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The Conservatives Party would scrap the government's flagship advisory service Business Link if it wins the next election, shadow small business minister Mark Prisk has claimed.

"We believe that regional Business Links are failing in their task," Prisk told the Sunday Times as he outlined the Tories' small business policy. "Many surveys show that only a small proportion of businesses use them and those that do are dissatisfied with the service they receive."

According to the MP, because much of the annual £190m spent on regional Business Link services is dedicated to directing enquiries to other experts the organisations should be scrapped and replaced by an expansion of the enterprise agencies network. Prisk said these organisations are "local", "face-to-face" and "able to adapt to what businesses in that locality need".

The agencies would be financed, he explained, by the government offering to match funding for three years with the other half of the money provided by councils and chambers of commerce. Prisk said that after that enterprise agencies will replace their government funding with other income streams such as providing incubator space for start-ups.

The MP told the newspaper that the approach was part of an overall policy for the government to take more of a hands-off approach towards small companies.

"What businesses need is clarity and certainty so they can get on and create the wealth and the jobs," he said. "Our job will be to support them but in a way that will free them to do what they do best. That is a very important shift. Government does not know best when it comes to free enterprise."

Other plans being considered by the Conservatives include the Work For Yourself initiative which like the Enterprise Allowance Scheme of the 1980s would provide weekly allowances for the unemployed to start businesses and introduce a "sunset" clause for every regulatory body requiring them to justify their existence.

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By joayoubi
15th Feb 2010 19:35

This is indeed good news and not a moment too soon.  Over the past ten years in business I have approached Business Link in London (twice) and York (once) and found them to be totally useless - ill informed, no business knowledge and unbelievably inefficient. 

Almost makes me want to vote Tory :-)


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By steveprior
17th Feb 2010 12:40

Business Link were pretty useless when I first started up. All they seemed to offer were outmoded and outdated advice mostly from people who should not have ever been involved with running businesses.

Luckily, I have a background in marketing both online and offline and I was able to make an assessment based on what I already knew. Pity the poor people who didn'ty have my background because all they would get is poor advice and even poorer implementation.

The world has moved on and Business Link haven't, it's about time someone did something about it.

All the best


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By Escabri
18th Feb 2010 16:26

So the Conservative Party would sutdown Business Link if it got to power through the next general election and they would start a "Work For Yourself" inititive. Haha, nothing new there.

If the "Work For Yourself" inititive followed along the same lines as the simular 1980's scheme then not many unemployed people will be starting their own business. For the simple reason they won't have, or be able to raise, the 1,000 pounds they need to be able to get funding from the Government.

It's about time the Government realised this "1,000 pounds stumbling block" exists and be willing to waiver it. Only by doing this will more unemployed people set up in working for themself.  

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By Chris Coles
20th Feb 2010 10:05

In one sense, this is a good start. But it does not go anywhere near far enough. The self same mindset exists throughout the Civil Service. Finessing Business services to the Enterprise Agencies is simply passing the role to another group that should also be closed. Why do you think we are so encumbered by grossly excessive government borrowing? The answer is very simple; we have an embedded philosophy that the Civil Service has a clear idea of how the nation should be guided towards success that is totally misguided. That the best business to support also supports the Civil Service in its own aim to continue with business practices that have signally failed to deliver a successful nation. PERIOD! Today, you will not even get considered for a grant without giving shares in your business to what appears to be a private investor but which is often in fact, another business owned and or controlled by the Civil Service. Moreover, every such investment has to be made such that the recipient of funding has also to define their exit. Why? So that the business can be rolled on into a Merger or Acquisition, (M&A). Yes, the very same system that has brought us Globalization, gambling on “financial markets” and the banking crisis. You get a grant so that someone else further up the financial food chain can make a bonus by selling your business to a larger competitor.

The end result is an uncompetitive business environment that has not delivered, indeed, cannot deliver; the wide range of jobs the nation needs for its young people coming out of education.
The Civil Service faces a crisis of its own making. It must now face the reality of the result of its own failures to deliver a successful business environment for the UK. The whole system of business support must be totally closed down. Regional Development Agencies are just another example of the unworkable and costly mindset that has signally failed to deliver. Any small business owner will relate to a very simple fact of business life. If you fail to deliver, you are closed down. The Civil Service business support services must not be tinkered with. Not pandered to as though it has a minor problem that another group can fix at a moments notice. Closed down; finished with. It will not be missed.
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By RobertCraven
24th Feb 2010 22:50

Glad to see people commenting. Surprised how people can't be bothered one way or the other (see my recent BizZone blog) - I am afraid that the politicians may be more interested in votes than doing the right thing. Have been asking hte question, should it go, but no-one form the BLs seems to wish to enter the dialogue. Hmmm...

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By ozskins
25th Feb 2010 11:41

they came to see me, after asking what real help they could provide she admitted that like with many other businesses this was going to be a very short meeting as they did not really provide any. spurious consultants offering marketing plans etc. what a waste of money a website with a repository of info fine. the rest should be confined to history and quickly

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By jdunnet
25th Feb 2010 21:08

What I feel saddest about is that BL feel they have to rebrand themselves to be allowed the chance to fail to deliver anything of value again. I think the latest badge I bumped into was European Enterpise Network. Click on the page and get taken to an e-mail link Business Link Kent.

What a start-up needs.

A bit of sanity checking on their product

A couple of slaps on their sales projections, including a warning on B2B sales cycles

A sanity check o the amount of funding to first sale

Some serious advice on route to market

Marketing messages per audience

And a couple of freindly granddad businesses who will try their product and givbe them a case study.



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By Mick Dickinson
26th Feb 2010 19:29

The body that represents the enterprise agency network, NFEA, exhibited perfect timing yesterday when it announced a very level-headed Enterprise Manifesto.

People need advice one to one from advisers who actually know what they are talking about. Online tips and tools are good, but only go so far.

I've had mixed experience with Business Link, some very good advice that stopped me wasting a lot of money on a doomed project; and some embarassing 'support' from a so-called expert. There's good and bad in all organsiations.

Anyway there's more on this topic here.

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By Junkk Male
28th Feb 2010 16:24

 After a few horrible false starts (chatting in preamble with one 'advisor' I ascertained that he was not long redundant after being FD of a failed business... great start!) I had a lot of financial support from our Business Link, and some not bad advice... but it ran to about five half days and then that was it.

Like climbing in an F-15 with an instructor, getting her off the deck and then, just before the afterburner kicks in finding they have ejected with a cheery 'happy landings!'.

I kept saying that while money was nice, I really also needed matchmaking with some guys who could complement my talents so we could create a viable business.

I really got the impression that they mainly had a bunch of boxes to tick, some dosh to dispense, and the sooner they could cut and run having got me to sign off the better they could suck the next tranche of funding dry, ensuring first some ritzy offices, staffing, etc got siphoned off first.

It's such a pity. There must be a vast bank of knowledge and networking opps there, but I really feel it was never joined up at all.

And with all this talk of supporting 'innovation' I dread to think what the alternatives may be.

Evolving businesses takes time, especially in 'new' areas such as ICT, web-based industries, etc. The 'widgets from Wigan' mindset, where getting a subsidised machine, making a thing for 50p and selling it for £1 got you on a sponsored trip to Taiwan before you can say 'match funding'... is long over.

Equally, there are many folk with great ideas who could benefit much more from being hooked up with business acumen over the longer term. James Dyson's are few and far between. Those of us who create tend not to be too interested in, and hence competent at writing business plans, forward forecasts and/or ..... sales.

I think something worthy and worthwhile is out there and worth pondering, but certainly not yet in a form that is much use, and certainly not associated with a mindset that wants to maximise the efficiencies and returns on investment of public money, spending as much as possible where it will DO the most good, as opposed to a ton of self-serving internal admin like some middle aged, middle class jobseeker sideline.

I want to make my business a huge success based on the invaluable financial help that I had from Business Link, as opposed to feeling I was cut loose and abandoned, all 'consultancy fees' neatly signed off, with an entity way bigger than I alone could or was qualified to handle, that ultimately perhaps served my business concept's interests less well than a more paced, step-wise growth.


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