Business Link to go regional, rules EEDA

BUSINESS Link services in the East of England are to be regionalised from next year, it was confirmed yesterday. The East of England Development Agency has decided to press ahead with proposals to award a single contract to replace the six existing franchises - including the county-based services in Suffolk and Essex - which are due to expire in April 2007.

BUSINESS Link services in the East of England are to be regionalised from next year, it was confirmed yesterday.

The East of England Development Agency has decided to press ahead with proposals to award a single contract to replace the six existing franchises - including the county-based services in Suffolk and Essex - which are due to expire in April 2007.

Concerns had been voiced that a regional Business Link service may be less responsive to the needs of particular areas, but EEDA chairman Richard Ellis pledged yesterday that the new structure would include consultation to ensure the service provided remained genuinely local.

“Small businesses are the life-blood of the region's economy and we believe that better co-ordinated, more consistent services will improve start-up and growth rates,” said Mr Ellis.


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“It is our aim to build on the current strengths of the Business Link operation in the region and ensure Business Link becomes the first point of contact for SMEs seeking guidance, independent advice and local expertise on how to set up, strengthen and expand their enterprises.”

Mr Ellis said the six existing Business Link services only employed around 200 people - on a full-time equivalent basis - and it made little sense to retain six separate management, marketing and IT functions to support such a relatively small operation.

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The “back office” savings achieved through awarding a regional contract would be ploughed back into the service to provide more highly-training advisors. The regional structure would also leave Business Link better placed to target priority growth sectors and hard-to-reach businesses.

“By providing one co-ordinated Business Link service, SMEs will have greater access than before to a wide range of business specialists outside their county and will receive a level of service that is consistently high throughout the region,” said Mr Ellis.

Consultation to ensure that local needs were met would not involve the creation of any new structures but would be based on existing business networks, he added.

EEDA currently spends £15.7 million a year to deliver Business Link services and this figure is set to increase with investment in a shared regional information system to enable faster responses to customers, better information sharing with partner agencies and more “robust” market intelligence to inform policy and services.

Richard Tunnicliffe, regional director at the CBI, said: “With UK levels of entrepreneurial activity stalling, and levels rising elsewhere in the world, it is more crucial than ever that government services help to deliver productivity gains for all businesses.

“Quality business support is proven to boost survival and growth prospects so is essential to enabling an 'enterprise revolution.' However, there are too many overlapping, confusing and inconsistent government schemes.

“I am confident that the steps being taken by EEDA will provide business with more readily available information that is pertinent to their own company, making the East of England one of the best places in the world to start, and more importantly build, a new business.”

David Burch, East of England policy officer at the Federation of Small Businesses, added: “The creation of a single Business Link for the region will help reduce the confusion that small business owners experience in finding the right advice.

“We greatly welcome the additional investment in front line advisors and that the range of advice available should be wider than in the past. The key to success, though, will obviously be in the continued local delivery of services and the use of local networks to influence that delivery.”

Twelve expressions of interest in running the regional Business Link contract were received before EEDA's deadline of February 10, and short-listing is now underway. Invitations to negotiate will be issued in March, and an announcement of the preferred provider and the specific shape of the regional service will be made by June.

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