The Future of Business Support

Read the official line here http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/enterprise-and-business-support/solutions-for-business-simplified-business-support and you’ll soon see why changes in funding are not understood!

Alternatively, here’s my take…

New and small businesses have enjoyed many years of grants, subsidies, advice and skills development funded by government and delivered through a complex infrastructure. It wasn’t easy to navigate, and often a lot of effort had to be made by those who wanted it, to find it. In some areas of the country Business Link did a good job of providing free or subsidised advice to established businesses and start-ups, delivering small grants to subsidise consultancy or other expenditure, hosting free events of relevance to small firms, and making business aware of other sources of assistance. Alas, it was inconsistent and expensive, and this coupled with the recession has led to closure of the face-to-face Business Link service (on 25 November to be precise).

So here’s the future (not exhaustive!)…
The Business Link Website which was already a great free-to-use resource is now being “enhanced” by being made “easier to use and with new information and services”- couldn’t tell you what’s new so far…but no doubt it’s coming

Business Link Helpline– (the “help” is only to help you find your way around the website) couldn’t tell you what the number is though, ‘cos I can’t find one on the website today!
Business Coaching for Growth a subsidised service using commercial business coaches who will support SMEs that have “high growth potential” (in the next 3 years to increase turnover or staff by 60% or grow by 7 staff/to £750k if under 10 employees; or hit £1m if a start-up). Growth Coaches (including me I hope!) will work face to face with senior management teams to help them to develop and implement their business strategies and develop the skills, expertise and techniques to overcome the barriers they face to growth. This is currently being tendered and will launch in January 2012.
Leadership & Management Advisory Service has been on the go for a few years and providing grants of up to £1,000 to develop SMEs leadership & management skills- expect this to enter a temporary shutdown at the end of this year until a new programme starts in April 2012, should be good for another couple or three years. This too is for high-growth businesses, with 2-249 employees and for start-ups which have potential to hit £0.5m turnover within 3 years. Regional contact points- too many to list, sorry!

Grant for R&D. Now run by the technology Strategy Board instead of Regional Development Agencies, this is a scheme individual businesses can apply to for potentially hundreds of thousands to develop innovative products. It’s a competition, judged on specific dates every couple of months or so- who gets the money depends not only on how strong your idea is, but on how much funding’s in the kitty on each date! (A much better chance than the Lottery though, it has to be said)
Mentorsme Talk about confusing! This was initially intended to be a free-to-use mentoring service for SMEs, staffed by volunteers. Not sure what it turned out as, but the website http://www.mentorsme.co.uk (operated by a consortium of banks) and gives a listing and links to websites of commercial and not-for-profit mentoring organisations. Try to work it out for yourself- I can’t!
Manufacturing Advisory Service. As the name suggests, for manufacturers- but not just that, it can also support businesses that are indirectly involved in manufacturing- such as those who sub-contract the manufacture of their own products. Subsidised support delivered through commercial mentors and consultants, objective is to improve efficiency and productivity. Becomes a national programme from Jan 2012, whereas it was previously a regional service.
National Apprenticeship Service Looks like funding for apprenticeship programmes is safe for at least years to come. Pretty much every occupation is covered- funding available in general for people with low skills levels to be employed at minimum wage and with free training and qualifications- just let’s hope that quality doesn’t go downhill as organisations who have historically delivered NVQs (which measure what people know rather than teach new skills) chase this funding.
Regional Growth Fund. This is a kitty of some £1bn, being distributed by BIS between 2011-2014. Its purpose is to encourage and co-fund private sector investment, to boost the economy and stimulate growth and employment. There are going to be a series of bidding rounds (see http://www.bis.gov.uk/rgf) , one of which has just finished and awards announced. Some grants are being made to individual businesses; others will go to infrastructure projects such as developing brownfield industrial parks. There’s a focus on areas where communities are hardest hit.
Local Enterprise Partnerships. Have become a little better organised after a shaky and reluctant start, these now cover much of the country after being encouraged/ demanded by government, in part to replace the now axed Regional Development Agencies. LEPs typically are a board, made up of representatives from private businesses, local authorities and often include Chambers of Commerce or other trade associations. They can make bids to the RGF- some have even won funds for their area after a virtual wipeout in the first attempts. Watch this space; they should become more prominent with time.

There, isn’t it all much simpler now!
We can safely assume, not unsurprisingly of course, that there’s less public money being put into business support. Also, there’s more of an appetite to help improve the general business environment in preference to supporting specific small businesses.
As for what this all means for small business owners?- well, it becomes more about looking for trade opportunities created by public investment in industrial/ commercial developments and tapping into large businesses rather than expecting grants yourselves. You’re being weaned off public funding

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