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Business Link will be scrapped by the end of 2012. What will replace the local Business Link service?

Although we already knew of Business Link's demise – we got the scoop in June – the timetable for the closure of Business Link was only confirmed today.

As part of the white paper on local growth, Vince Cable confirmed all regional Business Links will be closed down by the end of 2012.

The report says: “At £154m per annum, the costs of this support have been high and the generalist nature of these regional services means the support has often been poorly targeted, for example, towards so-called 'lifestyle' businesses that have no aspiration to grow.

“There are more efficient, effective and targeted ways to use public money to provide the kinds of business improvement help that businesses need.

“More services are now available online, including through businesslink.gov, which is valued by businesses, and the internet offers a key way to provide time-poor businesses with easily accessible information at a time and place when they need it and to help them find the resources they need.”

Business Link's replacement

Although some budding entrepreneurs will lament the lack of face to face advice coming from the Business Link service, the government believes this will be replaced by face to face advice from “people who they know and trust, particularly other business people local to them”. Presumably this means by Local Enterprise Partnerships?

The Business Link website will benefit from additional funding: the white paper talks about investing in improvements such as user-generated content, easier navigation, personalised services and more links to private and voluntary sector advice and tools.

The report says: “The government will focus on providing advice on regulation and transactions with government and wider online business advice and help will increasingly be developed and provided by those who can do it best – other businesses.”

It's good news that the government has finally realised that entrepreneurs want to hear from other entrepreneurs, not from grey-faced civil servants. But we're still cynical about the effectiveness of a government-run portal.

We're also worried about the escalating costs of the website. Research conducted earlier this year found that HMRC (who runs businesslink.gov.uk) spends £35m a year to build and operate the site. It's a staggering amount of money for a site with such a poor user-experience. And they want to spend more.

The white paper also confirmed that the Business Link website will be complemented by a national call centre, in order to provide for “those businesses without internet access or who cannot find the help they need on the web”.

Quite frankly, we're a little worried about businesses that don't have internet access – it seems rather old school in this day and age – but fine. Sometimes speaking to someone is easier than finding it online. Especially if they're in a call centre. Oh, wait...

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