Despite a 21-month long “review”, the government is still unable to provide a rationale for its plans, nor has it addressed the question of the quality of and accessibility to good business advice. Over the Christmas break, ministers slipped out their latest statement, showing that £3m has been spent on administering this process and they expect to spend another £2m before being able to say how it will work. The words “glacial” and “pace” spring to mind. Mark Prisk, shadow minister for enterprise, deregulation and competition is frothing at the mouth. Check out the letter he’s just sent to Stephen Timms, the minister responsible: “I am writing to you about the government’s proposed ‘simplification’ of the £2.5bn business support system. I am copying this letter to business organisations and the business media. Over the Christmas holidays your department published the latest progress report. Its contents make disappointing reading for business, especially small and aspiring businesses. After 21 months and £3m spent on this exercise, your department is still unable to explain what the new system will be or how it will work. Indeed, the only certainty is your intention to spend another £2m in the next two years as this administrative process proceeds. Where is this money coming from – is it extra spending, or has it been taken from the funds that would otherwise be going direct to aid small businesses? Secondly, the proposals appear to be a rebranding exercise, not real reform. Re-labelling schemes as ‘products’ and grouping these under themes as ‘portfolios’ may help you reduce 3,000 schemes into 100 ‘portfolios’ but how does help business? Many firms will see this simply as window dressing. What qualitative improvement will be achieved by this, for business? Thirdly, there seems to be no attempt to address the quality and accessibility of advice provided by many Business Links. Small businesses need holistic, face-to-face advice that is tailored to their needs and that of their market. Yet the regional Business Links have rejected that approach for a more remote, generic approach led all too often by inexperienced and unqualified staff. Why do your plans make no attempt to analyse the quality of and access to effective advice? With the economic climate worsening, businesses need clarity and certainty if they are to plan and invest. Yet this overdue review offers only confusion and uncertainty. Given this, I would ask that, as the Minister responsible, you seek time for a short debate in the House to set out your proposals, and explain to me, the House and the business community how your plans will better aid enterprise in this country?” Pretty scathing, eh? Do you agree with Prisk? Let’s hear your views.
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