So it is coming to pass. As I speculated back in March, the new government is to close Business Link.
Mark Prisk, the business and enterprise minister, has now said: “The regional Business Links have spent too much time signposting and not enough time actually advising,”
“We’re going to wind down the Regional Development Agencies, and as part of those, we’ll be winding down the regional Business Link contracts.”
The minister’s plan is to replace Business Link with a better state-funded on-line service, backed up with a call centre and more use of existing private business consultancies.
There was no time-table announced however and I wonder how they can do this in the short-term. For instance outsourcing giant Serco have only just taken over the running of the service in the south east in a three-year deal worth £80m and there will be contracts to supply the Business Link service through-out the country.
Whatever is implemented I hope it is done in a speedy fashion rather than dragged out. We will get to a position where Business Link services have to continue because the contracts are still in place, but no adviser wants to join them and the existing staff are demoralised because of the axe hanging overhead.
The planned on-line service replacement must be well thought out and effective. There is so much information on the web now days that just creating a government site that repeats this information will not do the job. It needs to be able to cover a vast range of issues in an accessible manner, catering from the inexperienced start-up, to established businesses looking for solvency advice.
Or should we be limiting the focus of such government advice centres. The original Business Link was set up to encourage new and very small businesses, but lately had targets set upon them that pushed their focus towards SMEs that had 5 – 250 employees.
There is an argument that an established business could better afford to engage consultancy advice from the private sector and that the free support (presumably on-line) should concentrate on start-ups and businesses with less than 5 employees.
I wait with baited breath to see the next set of announcements on timetable and focus areas for the new service. I just hope that like almost all government IT projects, the implementation of the on-line service doesn’t over cost and under deliver.