So farewell then, Business Link

Have you ever wondered how to get even more from your people in the workplace? Well, this is probably your last chance to find out at taxpayers’ expense due to the demise of the much, maligned generic business advice provider, Business Link.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever been a fan of the service. In principle, I think public services should either correct a market failure, promote social innovation or do something to address a social injustice. The provision of generic, basic business support does none of these things.

There probably is some justification for an online repository of the basic things that everyone really needs to know before starting a business – this information is available elsewhere but it’s justifiable to have it in one, easy-to-find place – but at £190 million per year, Business Link is £189 million a year more expensive than it needs to be to provide that function.

It’s not difficult to start a business. I did it with a couple of friends when we were all 22. All we needed was £5 for a legal signature on our company documents and £20 to get Companies House to register the company. The documents were available free on the internet. Then all we had to do was sell some goods and services for more than it cost us to provide them.

If you can’t work out how to start a business for yourself without the aid of state-funded support staff then fate, or possibly a deity, is probably sending you the subtle message that business is not the game for you – and it’s kindly providing you with that message before you’ve started a long, painful journey in a direction that is wrong for you, wrong for your family and wrong for wider society.

Once your business is up and running you should pay at least some cash for business support – including by joining umbrella organisations that are relevant to the sort of stuff you do – if you need it. Or get other businesses – or people you know who work for businesses –  to give you advice for free.

I don’t expect I’ll be making a habit of supporting cuts – and people losing their jobs is never something to celebrate or take lightly – but I think this is the right decision. As always, though, I’m ready and willing to listen to explanations of important work that Business Link does that others don’t do.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “So farewell then, Business Link

  1. Hard not to agree with much of this.

    However Business Link did work hard to provide targeted support to groups who were under-represented in the sector and for whom appropriate umbrella organisations may not yet exist.

    My feeling is that once advisers are freed of the ‘system’ the quality of their work could soar. Bad ones will go to the wall, good ones will thrive. And if they are sensible the good ones will do pro bono work for micro businesses that cannot yet afford to pay. ‘Advice for equity’ could make the dynamic between business support professional and start-up very interesting!

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  2. Mmm. Not sure about this one.

    My main criticism of Business Link, especially in latter years is that it has engaged what I call a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Especially since the advent of ‘Solutions for Business’ it has offered fewer and fewer standardised products.

    I think that good business support should address local needs and not offer ‘vanilla’ solutions such as ‘start your own business’ workshops.

    I disagree with you that people wanting to start in business shouldn’t or don’t need help, though clearly many people accessing Busines Link assistance haven’t needed assistance and have been there just for a loan or grant.

    I actually think there will be significant help for business start-ups in future. The letter from the Coalition Gov’t to Local Authorities re Local Enterprise Partnerships makes this clear. What the demise of Business Link does mean is that business support for established businesses will be directed from Whitehall and may well be onlione in nature. Let’s hope it doesn’t cost £000’s per click.

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  3. beanbagsandbullsh1t

    Thanks a lot for your thoughtful comments.

    To clarify a bit, I’m not arguing that no government funding should go into business support. The targeted, umbrella group support is (mostly rightly) heavily subsidised. Also agree on the need for considered local action.

    I was also being partially flippant with the ‘if they can’t work it out for themselves point’.

    Certainly, in the area of social enterprise I accept that there people who have the ability to deliver positive social outcomes but who need help with the organisational framework and also having the confidence to take the leap and get started. I just don’t think (despite the undoubted good work of some individual advisers) Business Link overall, with the ‘one size fits all’, ‘vanilla’ approach you describe has been the right organisation to tackle those problems.

    But the point underlying the flippancy is a serious one. I don’t think generic encouragement to start a business, any business, is not broadly socially useful or useful to the people being encouraged to start a business.

    Agree with Mike, that this is an area where a more open market could make things better and more interesting. I’d support the idea of issuing vouchers so that start-ups or micro-businesses which spent a bit of their own cash on support would have that topped up by the state.

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  4. Sorry, everyone, but you are missing the point. Businesses operate in the UK despite government, not because of it. Ninety-nine per cent of what government does to ‘help’ business – start-ups or established ones – is a complete waste of money. David Floyd is correct when he says: “If you can’t work out how to start a business for yourself without the aid of state-funded support staff…business is not the game for you.” If your business fails, learn and move on. Don’t expect any one to help. This is the big, bad world. That’s the way it should be. You’ll make it, or you won’t. And you don’t need some government-funded has-been to tell you how to fail.

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