On-line service to replace Business Link

Friday, July 2, 2010 11:44

Business LinkSo 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.


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8 Responses to “On-line service to replace Business Link”

  1. John Robertson says:

    July 3rd, 2010 at 8:39 am

    A series of pages about how to buy British would be welcome, or how to buy certain types of products in general. The effect would be to make it easier for readers to find out who the UK manufacturers of a product are and how to deal with them.

    An example: how much do paper factories really ask for a sheet of A4 and what are the different ways an office manager can buy it or use less? I think the cheapest price anyone is likely to get is 0.4p / £2 a ream inc. 17.5% VAT but I may be wromg.

    Another example: how cheaply can anyone buy toner and ink? Some statements by a real expert on ink would be helpful.

    A more specialised example is buying clothes. There used to be technical colleges for this sort of thing but now courses in “fashion” are more popular and the technical details are taken for granted. I’d like to see technical college teacher’s guides to buying knitwear, footwear, hosiery, with all the technical details like typical minimums and different qualities, and the ways of tracking down a list of suppliers. In areas where it’s hard to find a good directory, maybe business link could sponsor someone to edit an online one so that every single knitwear company is listed with every relevant detail about it.

  2. ian says:

    July 3rd, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Hi It seems an ideal opportunity to do revolutionise the way entrepreneurs are helped …Even a drunk one eyed frog can see the huge waste of money in the way entrepreneurs are “helped ”

    The one essential a startup needs is advice from some one who has been there done it ..

    The USA S.C.O.R.E is a good exapmle .these retired executives offer their services free but even if in the Uk these wre paid hours .it would be better spent than giving grants ..

    What entrepreneurs want at the start is the right focus for thier talents ..not ,what they think will progress their idea ..money ..
    Essentially it’s the principle of the old type apprentice system .

    There also needs to be a wider understanding of using new media ..most startup owners dont know how to build a list of customers first very cheaply ….Far too much time is spent on the product and not the market ..the reason most startups fail within three years ..
    Will the above happen NO ! But it leaves the ones that try it at an advantage …. Ian humbird uk

  3. Bill Aitch says:

    July 3rd, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Damned good post!

    I have been attempting a start up for over 3 years, have spent £500 on a prof. Business Plan, strictly as a last resort, & while pleased with the format, found it to slag me off. It was produced in the final second for a property lease application, therefore I had no time to rectify. With rectification I will be using it so many more times in the future, in preference to the Microsoft rendering that I had been using for over 2 years, or the BL freeby which I picked up at a 4 day BL Business Management course. The 8 hrs. post course free mentoring did not materialise, the mentor gave up after 1hr., As I did not have the necessary premises. He told me to return once the premises were in place, the very, & only problem which I currently need assistance with. Letters of Intent would be useful, but equally impossible, & not essential.

    My target is Institutional Catering, but sadly supply2gov only purchase Nuclear weapons in UK, they much prefer to import all essential food. They also have no intention of purchasing from anyone with 5 employees or less, or any start-up of less than 5 years old.

    The BL website is already brilliant, pity they are all wind, & no trousers. A complete waste of space & all other resources. Typical civil service. They are not interested in results, they are on a fixed salary.

  4. Bill Aitch says:

    July 3rd, 2010 at 11:01 am

    John R. is spot on, with some prime examples.

    I was paying ca. £2 for A4 until last October, when our local charity collapsed, consuming some for my own legal case on their printers, & donating some paper to ‘em. I often needed to print many copies of legal docs @ 20 – 30 pages each doc. I have no education in the stationary material market. I also have serious problems sourcing the correct envelopes at a price which I can afford.

    Ink is still yet a major problem, as I still yet do business, & am almost a full time volunteer with another new local charity that has sprung up from the ashes. We find it impossible to source ink at an affordable price, although I am willing to donate the ink if only it were affordable. The 1 printer serving management/reception is currently running on a donation from a local supplier, @ cost, but the IT suite/courses, as also the “Drop-In” M/c’s, are still yet devoid of printing (ink). As a part time tutor/mentor, I am currently considering donating all interested “service-users”/students with a 1MB, or even 2MB “stick”, in lieu of printing. This would also assist in saving the rainforest. Anyone losing the original issue (stick), would have to replace it @ their own expense (cost).

    Clothing is an ever increasing headache for me. As a bus pass holder since January 2010, I have never, in my entire life, been able to source a shirt, trousers, shorts or socks which remotely fit me. I sometimes wish that I could do another 12 years with the MoD. Always had the very best clothing there.

  5. Bill Aitch says:

    July 3rd, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Ian is also spot on!

    These large office blocks full of civil service on fixed salaries & gold-plated pensions/expenses are a complete waste of space & all other taxpayer’s resources. I would prefer to engage a consultant/mentor on a purely percentage rate, then I would have some hope of results. The traditional auctioneer’s rate was always 5%, & it sounds good to me. It is only “punters” cash, therefore we could all easily afford it, &, at least it would be a resource well spent. Again, I agree that it would need to be someone who has been there for a few decades in person. Whether we can afford it or not, however it may be funded, this hands-on-experience is what we really need, not some fast-track PhD. This minor expense could be paid monthly, by DD, as an integral cash-flow item, not as a large oversized shock.

    What we really need at start-up is assistance with acquiring premises. I could easily “donate” £1k/month County Council lease, x10 = £10k/annum, normally 5 years. We could easily pay 2 years up front, if necessary. We are at least willing to put our cash where our mouth is. If we are not allowed to sell in UK, we could simply export the essential food to the starving in/of Africa.

    I did see 1 case last spring of a £25k freehold purchase, fers only 20% as much real estate. I attempted ter take it, cash, still yet within budget, but was gazumped by the vendors agent. In capital terms, it would simply have been a “returnable deposit”, giving a far better yield, both in cash, as also kind, than any bank interest. The current “normal market purchase price” is 5x – 10x that, which would only give 2.5% – 5% as much real estate/production capacity as the county council lease, on the same available budget.

    We aim to train as many “old-fashioned” apprentices, & give as much work-experience as possible, to as many as possible, on our budget, but we need adequate facilities for this.

    In terms of a consumer list, we still yet hope for local Institutional Catering to consume the bulk of our product, & would produce to order, where ever possible. All surplus product could be sold on eBay or similar, also Farm Gate.

    In terms of Carbon Footprint, & other related expenses, all consumers are well advised to source a local product, locally!

    Sourcing locally also improves quality, through improved accountability. It is so easy to be ripped-off by some unacquainted stranger on the far side of the moon, but not so easy ter rip-off your next-door neighbour!

    Clearly a good ability in IT is vital in this modern world, even when dealing with the neighbour, or even one’s own personnel. It simplifies & expedites various purchasing/selling & all the relevant paperwork/book-keeping, giving us far more time fers production, our own & personnel further education.

    I have tried both A & L(now Santander), also Lloyds for assistance/mentoring, & both have effectively refused me Business Banking, much preferring to invest my cash for me, @ a whacking great “sales” commission. I have given ‘em both the elbow.

    I have also approached many wholesalers nationwide, some of ‘em specialist, but for the past 3 years they are not communicating with me. Maybe if I place a large bulk order with ‘em, they would finally communicate with me!

    I believe most “Trade” consumers are just as ignorant as the civil service, if that is possible.

    Maybe they are too well subsidised?

  6. Steve Moralee says:

    July 5th, 2010 at 9:37 am

    With reference to B L it was in 1999 when I first met with them, they were great very helpful, on the ball with everything and just wanted to see people turn ideas into reality and thrive. However I met with another (advisor) last year, after presenting some fresh product innovations to him, I was returned with a long story of how he had a great product then it all fell apart and his family fell apart, and how hard it was to get into markets and I probably wouldn’t make it anyway…. great advice and all of this took up around 3/4 of our time. Not being harsh but most (advisers) have failed with their own business and taken up these positions.. Give me a individual who have already succeeded in the path I am travelling ..

  7. Pete Betts says:

    July 27th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Business Link has been a source of continuous support and good advice since starting my business. I hope what comes after is just as good.

  8. Katherine Slicher says:

    August 2nd, 2010 at 11:29 am

    The truth with Business Link, as with any business, is it’s sucess is the people on the ground floor meeting and supporting the customers. The major difference with Business Link and other companies is that the customer is not paying the bill. The organisation has always been top heavy in terms of administration and the internal waste on accountability (as they are spending other peoples money and not their own) is phenominal. I have spent many years working with in and around the organisation and seen it from both sides and the present problems came with the change to a regional organisation at the time of economic crisis and the stategy to focus on established businesses, who naturally can and should afford private consultants. My view is they should disolve the Business Link and move the government support back to the towns to work at small Enterprise and start up level. But make the staff experienced in what they are teaching. Take away the start up funding from Job Centres and the like and get back to what worked in the past.

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