‘Bigger, better business’ — BIS announces plans for supporting and growing SMEs

If you are wondering about the future of business support following the wind-up of the old Business Link service,  then wonder no longer… The Dept for Business Innovation & Skills has just issued a document called Bigger, better business: Helping small firms start, grow and prosper (Jan 2011).

Depressingly, this document reads as if any argument regarding the complete shift from what we might recognise as structured one-to-one business advice and support to online, telephone and mentoring is already over — and lost….

The document focuses entirely on new online provision, telephone support, and an army (yes, yet another one) of 40,000 ‘business mentors’.

There is a very good dissection of the proposals on Rob Weaver’s blog here. (I believe I remember Rob from his days at WM Enterprise, if I’m not mistaken.)

In the context of the BIS proposals it seems to me that amongst the most useful things we could do is:

(a) Ensure that social enterprise and the co-op sectors are represented in plans for for business growth;

(b) Ensure that social enterprise and co-op mentors are included in any plans for (and resourcing of!) the ‘mentor army’; and

(c) Seek assurance that the New Enterprise Allowance scheme proposed by BIS is open *collectively* to groups of individuals starting new social enterprises and co-ops….

This last point isn’t specifically ruled out, but nor is it specifically ruled in — and I can already foresee a scenario in which by default only one person in a new enterprise development becomes eligible (because they are the business owner, let’s say) rather than collective ownership being recognised.

I think Co-operatives UK are planning a response — although as far as I can see the paper isn’t strictly speaking a consultation document, it’s a ‘this-is-what-we’re-doing’ document….

UPDATE: Good comment from SEWM’s Kevin Maton below. Please also note that Co-operatives UK/SEC have issued a briefing on the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme which can be downloaded here.

  1. Kevin Maton Reply

    Thanks for the link to Rob’s blog – useful set of opinions. And this is what we need more of – a debate. In the latest Co-ops WM update it commented on the BIS document and they highlighted that:

    “There’s a lively debate on it on LinkedIn, partly sparked by a rant from Kevin Maton at Social Enterprise West Midlands, with all the contributors agreeing that the document is severely lacking.”

    Now whilst I would argue that calling my initial contribution ‘a rant’ was a little strong, it was sparked by a frustration that too many people seem to be taking the view that we should make the best of this. NO. Its ill thought out and fails to provide the means to address its own objectives.

    Mentors. For years we at SEWM have argued that if you are taking experienced social enterprise managers out of their workplace to assist others with the development of their own business they should be paid. Fine if it is the occassional request for assistance but if you are good, word soon spreads and you are quickly inundated with requests for advice.
    The matching process for mentors and businesses will be through an online gateway service. Do people not see how ludicrous this is – mentoring success comes from matching an appropriate and trained mentor with a business requiring assistance. That cannot be done through filling in a questionnaire and getting a computer to match you up. This is really an area where local knowledge is essential.

    The document apperas to concentrate on self employment and very small business start ups. But all the evidence (I know – coalition government hates evidence] suggests that more jobs can be created through growing existing businesses rather than through start-ups. Yet this is where more tailored and specialist business support is required. If local economic develoment and growing businesses was that easy, SEWM and its specialist partners could have packed up years ago and just issued a few hundred copies of ‘Start your own social enterprise for Dummies’ But real life and real social enterprise business is a bit more complicated than that and we need to find a much better way of supporting its development than the latest BIS document provides.

    • Alun Severn Reply

      Kevin — Thanks for commenting. I couldn’t agree more. And what’s wrong with rants, anyway?

  2. Anna Hraboweckyj Reply

    In fact the BIS document looks to me like a template for reducing all sorts of advice services down to the status of on line information, even if there’s a bit of contact centre attached temporarily . This is scary. It is equally worrying that BIS doesn’t understand that matching is a sophisticated activity and that business people aren’t necessarily competent mentors, many just don’t have the skills or personality.

    • Alun Severn Reply

      Anna, As with everything else, it’s laissez-faire social and economic policies applied to the markets, to services, and to civil society. Be very afraid.

  3. Rob Weaver Reply

    Alun,

    Thanks for the reference to my blog on ‘Bigger, Better Business’. I am afraid I am only just catching up with your entry (thanks to Steve Walker of ART for alerting me to it)

    Yes I am one and the same Rob Weaver who worked at WM Enterprise.

    Thanks for your kind comments once again.

    • Alun Severn Reply

      Hello Rob — You’re welcome… And as the journos say: always acknowledge your sources…

      cheers

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