What should replace Business Link?

Who will replace Business LinkThe Tories have vowed to get rid of Business Link, the government-funded business advice service in England, but what if anything will replace it?

Business Link has had over the years a mixed reputation. Your view of the whole organisation usually depended on which adviser you were allocated.

I certainly remember my original encounter with them. I was starting my first business, an IT consultancy and was looking for any advice and help I could get. Having made sure that I was at my free one hour consultation 10 minutes early, I sat kicking my heels until the adviser finally turned up 40 minutes late.

“I’ve been having trouble with the #%*! central heating, mate” was his reason; ironic really since his background and expertise turned out to be as a plumber. I then was entertained for 19 minutes by tales of his plumbing business, before being told the best thing I could do was to go on a business planning course. Since I’d just finished my MBA and had sat through more lectures on business planning than I cared to remember, I wasn’t feeling greatly helped.

I grabbed the last minute to try and describe what I wanted to do as a business, but he was only interested in getting me to sign his time-sheet to say I had received my advice.

However I have heard very encouraging stories from some of our members and so I try and remain positive, but I shall probably not shed too many tears if they do go. The question is what should replace them and what will happen to the £190m currently being spent on Business Link.

The view of the Conservatives, should they come to power, is that they will instead boost the role of the local enterprise agencies. These have services that overlap those of Business Link, but I have found these organisations to be quite confusing to young businesses.

Many are run by private companies and it can be difficult to tell which are commercial organisations looking for customers and which are non-profit. They also suffer from the old criticism of Business Link, before they started to get their act together, that there is no uniformity, each presents itself in a completely different way.

Now if we accept that we are not trying to put in place one uniform monolithic organisation, but to have individual local organisations that may be privately run, but meet certain standards and deliver a locally needed service that’s fine. However the public understanding of what a local enterprise agency is and does needs to be made clear.

Doug Richard, of Dragon’s Den fame, has the view that: “We must sweep clean the entire government funded industry of business support and leave behind solely an institution whose remit is to expedite and simplify the effort of small business to manage the burden that government places upon it.”

This implies that there are no government funded enterprise services, but that instead the government just concentrates on its own processes, making them easier for small businesses to deal with.

That is a reasonable argument, that entrepreneurs don’t any longer need all the information and services that ‘business support’ groups give out; after all we now have Google and the Internet. Just stand back and let us get on with it. Maybe using the funds instead to give tax advantages to start-ups.

I like to think that after the next election, whoever is in government would work on creating a ‘culture of enterprise’. This spans the entire spectrum of changing the perception and attitude of financial institutions to entrepreneurs, incentives to people starting a business and yes also reducing the red-tape.


24 thoughts on “What should replace Business Link?

  1. David Provins

    Business Link is no different to any other so called government support service. The idea is always good but in practice they do more damage. They raise hopes that 99% are then found to be worthless. My advice to any new business is to network as much as you can. Seek help from everyone you can. As someone who has been in small business for 20 years after 30 years in major organisations I feel someone like me has a wealth of experience to share. I have turned round and helped a few local small operations over the years. With retirement I am more than happy to help anyone. Just ask

  2. Dominic Crinson

    I had an excellent business link advisor many years back. I still use their services when they have interesting seminars and the website is always very useful for resources. I would hate to see Business Link disappear. I have also used the services of local enterprise agencies in the past and have found them pretty useless. I would say get rid of the local agencies and make business link even better.

  3. Lee Tracey

    I have no experience of Business Link unless I know it under a different name. I have invested some hours into government sponsored advice and venture capital introduction organisations but they were all useless on the basis of provided it is not raining we will help you to buy an umbrella.


    My present company is in North Wales and here the Welsh Assembly and Venture Wales have been brilliant.  Real positive high grade advice and actual practical assistance.  We raised £250,000 from private venture capital investors and we are well on target.  Moving to North Wales – the best move I have made in 84 years.


    A much better use of public money than Business Link, would be to finance such operations as Company Partners so that they only need to charge start-up operations a small nominal charge and make a profit from a success fee.  The government funds would pay for free project analysis  and preparation for approaching venture capital sources.


    Lee Tracey – MD & TD iOPTEC LIMITED

  4. Oliver

    I’ve had several meeting with Business Link back in 2008 the first was an arranged meeting and the second I attended a conference and it just so happened they had a stand and I got pulled in. To be honest I agree it depends on which adviser you were allocated on how helpful they are. I was raising funds for a feature film the reason I met them was because I was refereed and they didn’t have a clue and was very negative.


    I think the money could be better spent than funding Business Link, or they could do with a shake up. But this is the same in all the government organisations, the film council, BFI the people in charge think it there money they set un-realistic expectations to get funding. As David Provins said in his reply networking get out there and meet people attend seminars don’t waste time sat in an office filling out forms.

  5. AJ Silvers

    Interesting question. I love the presupposition in the title that suggests Mr Brown et al will no longer be in power!


    To the matter in hand, I have had mixed experiences of both Business Link and a number of Enterprise Agencies. The challenges I think are two fold. 


    Firstly, as has already been mentioned, the quality of the experience varies greatly according to the individuals you come into contact with. In my experiences very few of the staff had run their own businesses at all and had nothing more than empathy with my situation.


    The biggest challenge is surely relating to the so-called targets. I had the opportunity to train the telesales team at one EA. Their primary goal was to fill places on the free courses they ran, the secondary goal was to get a positive response from the client to tick a box on their performance metric chart.


    The shocking thing for me was that the average daily performance of one of the agents was akin to the hourly performance of my commercial telesales customers. And this performance was sufficient to earn a very large govt contract and associated award.


    Were the EA to live and die by it’s actual performance rather than “manage” their check box items it would be unprofitable and be closed.


    If such inefficiencies were practised internally, how could that organisation inspire, educate or assist a third party to make a commercial venture a success?

  6. Andrew

    Interesting to hear Lee…am looking to pitch for Venture Capital atm. Recently went to Business Link for some advice – it wasn’t too bad, although VC is probably a bit beyond their expertise, I went to them primarily to get an understanding on how to do a profit and loss to complement my cashflow, and how to work out return on investment. Am currently trying to get everything presentable, so I can “Seek help from everyone” I can, as David suggests. Hoping to show it to Mark Bishop Associates, Southwest Ventures / YFM, people in my industry, and a few pickings from the EVCA website [ can't access the member list on the BVCA, =( ].


    To answer the original poster’s point:
    Hope Business Link isn’t scraped, but if it is, use any savings to make VC investment a bit more prevalent within the UK.

  7. Tham Obaidy

    I have in the past tried Business Link and found their attitude is just to fill the their time sheet, so that they can submit it to get their pay. However, I found that, knowing what is their requirements, I have been more precise with my questions. Do not allow them more time just hit them with your Business needs, straight between the eyes.


    If they are not responding to your business needs then there is no point of inviting them in the first place. And this approach has worked recently by making them answerable to my business needs.

  8. Rob

    I have found the website to be a useful resource, but the training I have not tried, primarily because I work for someone during the day, I am left needing assistance in the evenings and weekends!

    Are you trying to fill the void instead?

  9. Peter Kukla

    Having spent the last 2yrs working closely with different elements within Business Link here in the North West, I hope the following is helpful. to other members.


    In September 2008 I was faced with the very grim reality of having to consider placing a business I had started from scratch in 98, into Liquidation. As everybody will understand as a Director we have responsibilities. I spoke to a number of leading Accountancy firms, who frankly were more interested in what amount of fees they could squeeze out of the business before wind up.. (I truly learnt a lot in that phase). Then frankly out despair called business Link to see IF they could provide a list of practitioners, to my utter surprise I was introduced to two leading Business Link Specialists, and I must say they where absolutely incredible, and most importantly as a Director it provided us with an independent view of our positions. In the end it was everybody’s opinion we had no alternative but to place the company into liquidation. That I have to say IS the very best part of Business Link and it was world class.


    Since then, I have formed a new company, regained the Patents, redesigned and refocused the technology into another sector entirely. I was invited to the Daresbury Science Innovation Centre in Cheshire, and God willing from small acorns will Oak trees grow. BUT, now I have witness other parts of Business Link, First Class People, Specialists from the Business Sector, Banking Sector and THE overall support via SIC …..


    So what’s the problem, WELL frankly I can only describe it as as Rubber Sword, ie it looks great, BUT unable to actually make something happen…… It’s fair to state, actually it’s NOT their fault. We’ve made presentations to every major High Street Bank , but the Banks have been behaving like total Prats over the past 18 months. Business Link have been with me every step of the way.


    So….. what’s the issue, frankly Today’s Business Link is a 5 legged Cow, people don’t know whether to Shoot it, Cut a leg off or just put it in a Shop window as an attraction…….


    I truly believe WE collectively have a far more fundamental problem, that is THE Regional Development Agencies ALWAYS have funds UNTIL you actually want them to pay out……… That has to end because you have people justifying thier position by how many times they can circulate funds around the houses, THAT is very wrong….. (oh what a surprise!!!) Today, we have Banks which DO NOT want to fund Business and frankly WE are collectively WASTING time and energy TRYING to change thier minds. I had one high street Business Banker actually tell me ” My God the EFG
    Program is ONLY for our existing clients who need a top up….. That’s THE game we’re in today !!!!!!


    What’s needed is a entirely NEW line of Commercial Lending, entirely focused UPON and ONLY towards Innovation and New Business Start Ups, Business Link taken away from the Regional Development Agencies and attached to this NEW Commercial Lending Program.


    To be competitive in this NEW World, WE collectively need a new approach, can Conservative do it, frankly I think NOT, it’ll take them 3yrs to get on the ground, I firmly believe we have to stick with WHAT WE GOT, they certainly know what does NOT work……….


    I hope these notes are helpful and I wish you all well.

  10. F.J.Holme

    What people won’t get when they approach business link is Funding.


    I believe an integrated system where established Local businesses are preprepared to ( for a fee from Government ) use their premises and assistants to start new ventures off and break the first ground for the new company ( say 1year ) then help them set up the new business in their own premises.


    The success rate should be high and positive And if a couple of hundred £m is needed then find it. We are talking about our kids future ( Gov remember the money you found to save the banking system ( our money that is ) The truth is B/L falls short of passing on any real positive help ( Jobs for the boy’s ).

  11. Alexander Lee

    One must understand that UK business are going to face much tougher times just as the same happened to coal industries in the ’80 where other countries can produced cheaper coal than UK. So now we are facing two emerging giants China and India, where in the next 10 to 20 years time most manufacturing industries in UK will be decimated by the low cost high value added manufacturers from the two countries unless the British Government prepared to lower their high cost of taxation such as fuel, VAT, VED and income tax to be competitive. Otherwise we will never be able to afford to have free NHS and social benefits for the people.


    I came from Brunei and we had imports from China and India where 10 or 20 years ago we bought more British products as better quality when compared to those two countries. Now 20 years forward we are buying less British and European products but more from those two countries and in the next 20 years more than 90% will be from those countries and now where does that leaves for British business. Most manufacturers that I dealt in UK now have set up factories in China and eventually they will moved 90% of their activities there and can you blame them?


    I will blame the present Labour Government for wasting 13 years sleeping on cheap borrowings and put huge stealth taxes to pay for those borrowings and at the end of the day the British people owed more money beyond their means as compared to high savings rate of China and India which could they afford to pay taxes or rather any income to pay when no industries are around to employ them and by then 20% of the population will be on benefits.


    So now where does Business Link stand, or will it exist whether in new name or not depends on the existence of industries in UK. Will public servants be able to enjoy their pensions when this country is bankrupt to tax from disappearing industries. So the sooner that any old or new government elected begin to realise what will happened in 10 to 20 years time and act now then there will be a glimmer of hope for the British people to prosper and live longer with better health.

  12. Bill Aitch

    For almost 4years we have attempted every avenue to avail ourselves of agricultural property. We have now been offered just over 2 acres by Shrops. County Council. Whether this “surplus” is to buy or lease we do not know. It would be almost enough to graze a pony, & hopefully park my 2 berth caravan, in which I will be living, from next month on. We need at least 50 acres for a viable production unit.


    I have been to 18 viewings/tenancy applications with Devon CC in the past 3 years, & at least 6 other tenancy applications elsewhere, all at a cost of at least £1,500. We have to compete against at least 30 other applicants at every application.


    Business link sent me on a 4 day management course, at Enterprise Burton. I have consumed 1hr of the 8 hrs free mentoring from a gent at Telford, who told me at the beginning of last year to return when I had the property sorted. It is not only my initial problem, but also our only problem, & I find that we are alone again. The course was delivered by an accountant who has no idea of agriculture, although it was stated in advance, that our Business Plan would be completed, ready for the Tenancy Application, by the end of the course. The gent did not know a single input price, or a single wholesale price for our produce, but could quote me for a grossly inflated hair cut, as his wife is a hairdresser. A Barclays bank manager in Shrewsbury was able to assist slightly with a few figures, but I currently live outside Dudley (B’ham), & aim for the SW or Wales, as my trading area. no other bank can be of assistance, although I have never done any business with Barclays.


    The BL website is fantastic for keeping pace with new legislation in both agriculture, as also transport, but BL is otherwise a complete waste of space.


    Enterprise Agencies are equally a complete waste of taxpayer’s hard earned groats, & should be shut down asap, complete with all other gov.uk quangos.


    I have attempted networking, but am sadly over the age of 25, & am not an alcoholic or smoker, therefore am not welcome in any livestock market without a “holding number” from defra.


    A simple “catch 22″, no holding = no number, & vice-versa. The entire agricultural industry is a closed shop, one is born into it, complete with silver spoon, or no chance. I have now been on Benefit for 10 years, as the home office office do not allow me any form of honest toil in UK, despite me being a native, dating back at least as far as the early Saxons. Being on Benefit, I have no hope of a mortgage, or Business Angel, but could purchase a plot, for £20,000 cash. Unfortunately, with riding schools, etc., paying £250,000 for only 20 acres, & the bailiff of Devon CC having a budget of only £4,000/acre, the cards are truly stacked against us. I do not need a personal income or pension, but would simply live off of the land, & plough any & all profit from the venture into our charity.


    The past year has only seen 2 Tenancy Applications, 1 in Devon CC, despite them having over 80 tenants on a 5 year tenancy, & 1 private, at Presteigne, which was over £200/acre on a 3 year lease, with the entire 56 acre plot far too steep for goats.


    We have spent the entire 4 years on the mailing list of all 7 county councils in Uk that are still yet running the scheme from 1905.


    We find that most civil service never answer any form of communication, & that the private sector is even worse. We were hoping to supply The local MoD, schools, NHS & Social Services, Prisons etc. with Free Range pork, bacon, poultry, eggs, veal, lamb, & some veg & fruit, but have no means of contact with ‘em.


    We would employ as many disaffected teenies as possible, on full-time work experience, etc., even from the probation service.


    Unfortunately, the Dunkirk Spirit is long since dead & gone, the youth of today have no hope, chance, or future, & we could easily take our venture to Panama, Costa Rica, or the South Pacific, where our skills will be much more welcome.


    I find that civilisation has become it’s own worst enemy. Whichever party wins the election, it will simply be a case of, more of the same. Even Hitler could not have produced so much, totally superfluous, Red Tape.

  13. John Matthews

    As an ex Business Link adviser of 7 years whilst I share some of the doubts about the quality of Business Advisers there are two main reasons why Business Links are perceived to have problems. The first is the persistent and consistent change in government policy. In its early days key resources such as business advisers were tasked with focusing on potential growth businesses – those businesses that would provide employment and sustainability. Business advice was charged for on a subsidised basis and businesses paid only when they perceived they were receiving value – the ultimate test. Over the years the consistent change of government policy, from a qualitative approach to business support and advice to a quantitative one focused on hitting targets for those attending workshops and seminars and making information enquiries, has diluted the need to employ experienced and suitably qualified advisers. Such changes have often been driven by a new minister, of which there have been many, responsible for small business needing to make their mark by creating change for changes sake. This persistent fiddling has also meant that individual links have had little opportunity to embed the way they operate for any length of time.


    The second reason is the franchise system under which Business Links operate. Each operator of a business link has a franchise to manage its link for five years. By the time the franchisee, especially new ones, has understood the issues and begun to develop a strategy it’s time to think about the next franchise round. So their driving priority has been to meet government targets which has left little resource or time to develop any specific services for businesses in its area.


    Most SMEs value a high quality business support service. The question is not whether business links have failed or succeeded. The question is why government has failed to use business links in the most effective way.

  14. Fergus Hoey

    My experience of Business Link is that it seems to be geared towards counselling total entrepreneurial virgins who are starting out on grade one without a clue. I have found the attitude of advisors patronising in the extreme and their understanding of what I was aiming to achieve almost non-existant. All too often I was reminded of the old expression “teaching your grandmother to suck eggs”. If they really had any real practical expertise they would not be working for a governmental body such as this….but rather pursuing their own projects. They seem to just go through the motions, tick the boxes and collect their salary….a cushy number. I hope Business Link is abolished. There is a real need for a good advisory and networking service… but spare us expensive governmental initiatives that are a total waste of time and money.

  15. Richard Jennions

    From 1976 to 2002 I was an Expat in S.Africa.Working in big corporations essentially on Corporate Strategy,Management Services,and Risk finance. A typical Management Consultant .(Those who can do,those who can’t,teach,and those who can do neither Consult.).Having viewed the antics of Blair for a year or so I could not understand how the Brits went along with New Labour the whole scene screamed out “It is just like S Africa after apartheid. Holy cows like BEE -Black Economic Empowerment -and targets for praiseworthy objectives “But nothing to do with winning in business. Clearly members have worked out that the whole panoply of state intervention in UK business is wrong.Politicians like consultants have never run any business and yet they have been allowed to get away with establishing procedures that constrain businesses to tick box their activities relevant to social engineering but not to business.


    What is needed is for businesses to join truly representative associations and bombard govt.depts with complaints ,demands,and congratulations if they ever do anything that is of help to business. The only function of these associations should be to represent business against govt.Parliament is supposed to represent the people against a rapacious sovereign. Now we need trade bodies and representative associations to protect business against an exploitative parliament.


    Set the govt.targets worked out by business people and keep publically blaming them until they get rid of things in the way like RDA,and Business Link.Oliver Cromwell had it right. I think he said “The whole pack of you – For God’s sake Go!”. Until business tells govt that they are the problem not the solution Britain will continue to decline.

  16. Chris Gallagher

    Business Link does need to change since help will always be needed by smaller companies.

  17. Chris Scanlon

    Business Link is a good idea, just bad in delivery.


    However the key issue is the role of the government versus the role of the private sector. Government’s role is that of regulation – setting the targets, and then enabling others to deliver them. This would be setting out the strategic targets that the government would like to see – and then providing money to enable that to happen. I would like to see a qualification called “Chartered Business Advisors”. These people would be required to be well informed about the things that “Old Business Link” try to do – and be the government’s arm for helping business forward. These business advisors would demonstrate business capability and have access to regular Professional Development – including briefings on what the government is trying to achieve and how to access the money to achieve those objectives. Furthermore they would be experienced in helping to make change happen – which is what all businesses struggle with – changing with the times.


    Heseltine’s original idea of Business Link is a good one – its just not doing what it is intended to do.

  18. Jan Ward

    I have been running small and medium sized businesses for over 30 years and have been involved as an outside advisor and observer with various government depts as far back as the BOTB, and have been in involved with various non governmental business support organisations eg Chambers of Commerce , Institute of Export etc . BL has evolved into a beast that was never intended at the outset as all government backed organisations are bound to do. Its how a civil servant develops a career path.
    In was never likely that a government run and funded organisation was going to be commercially minded enough to be successful in supporting business. So what’s the alternative? I only believe its possible for experienced and successful businessmen to support businesses. The question is how do you get successful business people to do this? Many of them belong to an organisation of some sort , trade association, chamber, CEO organisation etc . Could government use this range of organisations as a support network? The support would then be more industry focused and specialised . Most of these organisations would be happy to be selected to carry out support work and it would very cost effective to extend an already existing organisation to add some services to its current service base. Government must give up backing winners and investing through government grants and use the money to give exporters proper support and give real tax incentives and cashflow support to small business.

  19. Tony Morkel

    BL was a brillaint concept — now a lame duck. I have used many hours with BL in search of resolving business hurdles. They have been courteous, attentive, kind and seemingly interested but have not volunteered positive information, advice or structure to my planning. An excellent idea ……. run into the ground. Great staff. Poor management.
    The solution is staring us in the face. An alternative investment is to offer PRACTICAL and SUSTAINABLE FACILITIES in combination with LEGAL, FINANCIAL, MARKETING and ENGINEERING expertise walking alongside entrepreneurs as they learn to run. Thank you for providing opportunity for the expression of alternative views.

  20. Kevin Edgar

    Having spent most of my career in the IT solutions industry building a comprehensive understanding of cross industry business processes and the systems that support them, I visited BL when I decided to set up an Independent consultant’s network to share diverse skills, resources & opportunities.


    Whilst I applaud the principles behind BL, I am less certain of its effectiveness in supporting budding entrepreneurs. Given the spread of skills they need to acquire to make a success of their respective businesses, Business Plan, Accounting, Management Reporting , Sales, Marketing, Web Site Development, Search Engine Optimisation, e-Commerce, Supply Chain, Distribution, Manufacturing & Service Management to name but a few, dependent on their business model.


    It occurs to me that with a little foresight and planning it should be possible to devise a business incubator environment in a part funded location where complimentary business start ups are drawn together and able to share skills, resources, expertise and contacts to support mutual business growth, whilst developing their own businesses.
    An Ideal mix would perhaps consist of complementary enterprises such as Sales & Marketing, Accountancy, IT /web /e-commerce and say a wholesale or retail distributor or service organisation.


    Whilst such an approach would have its potential problems in terms of resource allocation and revenue realisation across the participating enterprises, these could be far outweighed by the collaborative co-operation generated and were one of the organisations is struggling perhaps key interim expertise could be drafted in part funded by central government, much as it is today but inevitably more specific to the real problem.

  21. Romeo Richards

    As to the question of what to do with the £190 million, easy answer; give it to me I will make better use of it. Joke aside, I wrote an articles a few months ago raising similar issues. In the article, I made the point that there is nothing wrong with the idea of the Business Link. The problem is with the implementation.
    Firstly, the Business Link is staffed by failed entrepreneurs and bankers. How can someone who have failed and given up help someone else to succeed? Or how can someone who have never ran a business in his life, show someone else how to run a successful business? I am not suggesting that if someone has failed they cannot make a good adviser.

    The services the Business Link provides are vital for the success of many businesses. Getting rid of the it is not the answer to helping businesses in this country. What is required is re-structuring it so that it is fit for purpose.

    There needs to be one part for start up businesses and another part for growing ones and each part should have different set of advisers. The current advisers are good for start up businesses. For growing businesses there need to be people who are currently in business themselves or who have ran successful businesses.

    Finally, advisers need to be held accountable for the result they produce. They all need to be self-employed, pay on performance of the businesses they advice. When this is done advisers will think twice before they ask someone to just sign their documents.

  22. ian

    Hi Two years ago i tried to get help from BL. never did get back to me ..

    Tried again recently
    .they got back , then after passing me around i contacted to x who said ” I promise to get back to you ” Never did so rang his number many times ..always ..recorded message.

    My experience is ..forget them …….contact other entrepreneurs .

  23. Karl Holliday

    I found Business Link to be of great use to me. It helps with the main aspect of business and that is knowledge and planning. You need to have an understanding of business and before I attended the courses I knew a small amount that is needed to set-up and run a business. If I was to go to a investor last year they would be able to pick holes in my business plan, then I would have to go back to square one still not really knowing what direction or what is needed in the inclusion in my business plan. My point of view is they are a great asset to those who need that vital piece of help, knowledge.

  24. Rosie Cribben

    Answer to your question what would place business link. The government having an internet system that is set up for questions and answers relating to anything that is business related! A direct Business system so you can search for anything on how to get up and started! Where to go! How to get the funding! How and when you pay back!

    Anyone starting a business needs a merchant system so they can pay back and know what or who they owe money too. That way in this system people would not get into debt. They repay when they sell on line and there debts get paid off when they get paid. Also the tax man can keep an eye on you.

    Sounds the way to go for me!
    In business you need to be organised, and need to have a system that works! otherwise people get lost in the fog and it turns into chaos. Start as you mean to go on.

    Life should be fun! and we should enjoy our success! not sink in it.

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