Mark Prisk, the business and enterprise minister, has exclusively told Real Business that Business Link will be shut down.
“The regional Business Links have spent too much time signposting and not enough time actually advising,” Mark Prisk told Real Business this morning. “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.”
To replace the current Business Link service, Mark Prisk proposes a two-pronged approach, led by a state-funded online service and the private sector.
Mark Prisk explained: “We can deliver a lot more online and make better use of the private providers. The vast majority of private businesses don’t use public services [for advice]. We need a 21st century approach to business support.”
This “21st century” approach will be spearheaded by an improved and simpler-to-use online service, accessible both on desktops and on mobiles, he added. This will be supported by a call centre, which will give people “that little bit of extra advice from wherever you are”.
Private sector provision of business advice will also become more important, Mark Prisk said. “This fits into the new system of local enterprise partnerships that we’re developing, it’ll be complementary to that.”
More specifically, Mark Prisk sees existing private-sector business support agencies – such as those linked to their local Chamber of Commerce or local authority – taking on a bigger role in providing face-to-face advice and networking.
“The idea that the government has to try and do the same is nonsense. We can make better use of the private providers. There’s a danger of the government trying to do what the private sector already does.”
With research showing that 80 per cent of private businesses already use private providers – rather than government tools – Prisk may have a point.
The fear, of course, is that smaller private businesses could be priced-out of the business advice market, but Prisk says this won’t happen.
“Remember that the vast majority or private businesses just don’t use public services [for advice]. They use the free things that are available to them anyway. For example, if you talk to members of Ecademy [Editor: or indeed Real Business!], they already use their business social network to secure advice and ideas for future contracts anyway.
“We have to think intelligently about enabling effective business support rather than about effectively running it.”
What do you think? Is this a good thing? Or will the new scheme be more of the same? Leave your comments below. And don’t forget to check our analysis of Business Link.