Business Link – where is there a ‘one stop shop’ for business now?

Posted on January 27, 2014 by FGL

You know you are getting older when something you used to talk about regularly has been ‘de-funked’ for the best part of four years – at least in the format you remembered best.

Here’s a brief summary of the demise of a great service:

  • The concept for Business Link was established in December 1992 by Michael Heseltine, then President of the Board of Trade, when he was in charge of the Department of Trade and Industry and initially referred to as a “One Stop Shop”
  • Five years after the launch of the Business Link concept, a network of 89 Business Links had been established, and each week some 10,000 businesses in England were using the service
  • The service employed about 650 personal business advisors who worked mainly with businesses that employed between 10 and 200 people
  • Despite the evidence that it was the advisers who contributed to the impact of Business Link, the Coalition Government, elected in 2010, declared their intention to abolish the regional business adviser programs run by Business Links. The website would be retained, and new local enterprise policies would take their place.
  • The website proclaimed itself to be Government’s online resource for business, containing essential information, support and services for business. The strap line used on the site was: ‘Information. Support. Compliance.’
  • The website was replaced by the new Gov.uk public information website on 17 October 2012. Content was migrated to the new website, maintaining previous links in order to redirect users.
  • The telephone service is still available on 0845 600 9006

To satisfy my own curiosity, I rang the telephone service, expecting to chat to someone who knew a bit about running a business and the issues being faced. I got a very nice lady who really wanted to get my name right (Delta, Alpha, Victor, India, Delta) but didn’t actually have a clue about business support other than signposting me (very politely) to the Gov.uk website with it’s wonderful factsheets and links to other wonderful factsheets and links. No “human” business advice to be seen anywhere!

It must be very frustrating for local businesses, who want to talk through business issues, but struggle to know where to go. Business Link really was a one stop shop with some great advisors who knew their stuff, and they were generally the first port of call for help and guidance. If they couldn’t help, they always knew a man who could – a human being not a website!

I was at a Coast 2 Capital Forum before Christmas where we were asked to brainstorm ideas for supporting local businesses – and out of the 20 or so tables, at least 12 of them were recommending a Business Link type of set up. It really is what businesses need and want – even if they had to pay a bit for it.

In Croydon we are well supported for business start-ups and places like Croydon Business Venture and GLE offers fantastic support and guidance. CBV even offers free training, mentoring and workshops – and GLE can look at start-up loans for those having trouble getting one from traditional sources. Funding for existing businesses may also be available through GLE.

Existing business wanting advice do struggle to know where to go – especially as they sometimes know that there is something wrong with the business, or have an idea what they want to do, but can’t quite pinpoint what they really need. That’s where the skill of a Business Link advisor came in – they were great at drawing out the real issues to be dealt with, and helping you do something about it.

Local networking support through the Chamber of Commerce is excellent, Croydon Council has some superb factsheets and sign posting and Brian Treherne and Malcolm Brabon at Coast to Capital are an amazing source of information on international trade, import & export and large project funding.

Accountants are always on hand to help – and the ICAEW is being very pro-active in its support of a Business Advice Service and their Added Value Network through their accountant members. It’s worth checking out the ICAEW website for details of this.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of these support services could work collaboratively – all with the common goal of making businesses in our area as successful as possible? The SMEs in Croydon are the backbone of the local economy, and the more successful they are, the stronger the local economy will be, more businesses will be attracted here and more people will be employed.

At a national level, “Business Link” needs to be re-born and perhaps the Federation of Small Business (FSB) can sow the seeds of that thought when they and Steve Reed MP welcome Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister for Small Business and Sadiq Khan, Shadow Minister for London to Croydon for the Labour Party Small Business Consultation and Reception at Selhurst Park on the 7th February - if you are going to the event, see if you can get it into the discussions – there’s a challenge for you!

Until then……..my personal mission in Croydon is to get the ‘business supporters’ locally to work together better – using our differing skill-sets, knowledge and experience – and put Croydon businesses back “on the map”.