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.