Bye-bye Business Link

With news of plans to scrap the business resource, we asked entrepreneurs for their views

It’s official. After months of speculation, the government’s resource for businesses is coming to the end of its 18 year life, after the spending review was unveiled last week. News of Business Link’s planned closure echoed through the business community, as entrepreneurs learnt that the network, which costs the government £154m, is to be scrapped in April 2012. It will be replaced by a website and a call centre, which the government says will contain “more user generated content, easier navigation, personalised services and more links to private and voluntary sector advice and tools”.

The business community is divided in its views of Business Link. While some entrepreneurs swear by its valuable advice and informative content, others remain skeptical as to its real significance. However, the announcement certainly marks a big change for the government’s business support policies. Business Link was established in 1992 by Lord Heseltine, then president of the Board of Trade, while he was head of the Department for Trade and Industry. Its online resource network, Businesslink.gov.uk, was launched in May 2004, as the official website for businesses of all sizes and has since helped thousands of businesses onto their feet, or not, as the case may be.

We asked entrepreneurs for their views on the resource, and what they think of the plans to scrap Business Link:

Warren Bennett – A Suit That Fits Business Link has been a useful source of advice for us on the basics of starting up a business. When we launched  A Suit That Fits, we found services like this to be really useful and cost effective when we needed a problem solved quickly. For us, the new call handling centre will be a welcome change for its convenience, but the value of face-to-face contact is not to be underestimated.

Charlie Mullins – Pimlico PlumbersLosing Business Link isn’t any great loss to society. I’ve been pretty upfront with my support for the government’s cuts and if we’re saving a load on this lot I say ‘it’s about time’. Maybe I’m supposed to say ‘it’s a shame, and the business community is losing a great resource’, but as far as I’m concerned it is just another quango that didn’t give us value for money and, didn’t make any real difference – certainly not to me anyway! Businesses will fly or crash on the merits and drive of those behind them not because of some kind of bureaucratic department cheering from the sidelines and telling them how to run their companies. Real business people get on with what’s important.

James Davis – Upad I used Business Link prior to launching Upad three years ago. It offered very useful seminars and information on various topics, from IP to taxation. I still use it and it has helped in the last three months regarding employee pension schemes, EMI share options and small business rate relief. David Cameron, when talking at a business conference last week, said we need to invest in businesses that will be our future; how does cutting back on projects like Business Link help achieve this? It has been a hugely valuable resource to Upad, it would have a detrimental effect on the quantity and quality of new businesses if it were not to continue.     Iain Booth – VetUK In the early days of VetUK we were a young, naïve company and needed the best business advice we could find, and rapidly. Unfortunately whilst Business Link should have been able to provide this they fell way short of the mark. As we grew our needs altered and our adviser was replaced. Although funding was extremely limited and inefficiently provided when available, their services were certainly of some help. Business Link has had its critics, I would count myself as one, but the Yorkshire model was starting to have a positive effect and  attention was being paid to the quality of staff. A national call centre is not a suitable replacement for individual attention, it will lack local knowledge and accountability. The real issue in business support is the quality of people providing the support. Governments think by changing names and structures they are addressing this issue – history shows us this does not work.

Nicko Williamson – Climate Cars I never managed to get much useful information from Business Link. I felt the people were always very polite and willing to help but the quality of information I was offered was not particularly useful. As a result I used Business Link a couple of times during our early start-up stage but I have not used them since. I do wonder how much help a call centre can be for small businesses. Will they provide specific advice? What level training will the operators have? Advice for small businesses needs to be helpful, otherwise they will go elsewhere. I wonder whether a general call centre can ever have the depth of knowledge required to advise well on particular topics.

Neil Westwood – Magic Whiteboard Business Link was good for accessing free training courses which helps some businesses who would not be able to afford them. For very early start-ups I think it can be a valuable resource, however, for established businesses I think the quality of support and advice is mixed. The cost of providing this centralised service across the country was enormous; small businesses would rather pay lower taxes, reduced rates, or lower National Insurance contributions than access support. I’m not sure a call centre will add much value – based on my experience of NHS Direct they don’t answer your specific questions.

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