The state-funded business support system in the UK has been reformed twice during the last 15 years. Now, with Business Link and Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) scrapped, the system is being reshaped again. There is certainly no shortage of business support initiatives. There are currently 900 local and national, public and private support schemes in the UK, but the current offer is not well structured. At the national level alone, more than 10 government departments and non-governmental bodies are in charge of delivering different schemes. This level of complexity and lack of structure means that the business support system is hard to navigate, evaluate or manage.
This briefing presents a structured review of the business support initiatives offered by the Government, and identifies the key questions that need to be urgently addressed if the system is to improve.
To apply structure to the business support offer, this briefing reviews 43 national initiatives and classifies them by type of tool, geographical impact and objective. The latter classification divides all business support initiatives into those aimed at helping businesses grow, making businesses better and increasing the number of businesses. This structured analysis helps in navigating and understanding the system, and leads to the following conclusions:
- The business support system is extremely complex. This makes it difficult for businesses to navigate support and complicates the analysis of any gaps.• The business support system is extremely complex. This makes it difficult for businesses to navigate support and complicates the analysis of any gaps.
- A lack of an overall business support infrastructure results in inefficient delivery. Multiple institutions are responsible for delivering support schemes with overlapping objectives and as collaboration between them is inconsistent, duplication of services and inefficient use of resources is hard to avoid.
- The lack of both infrastructure and of visible access points complicates access to support for some businesses. While large companies usually have capacity to keep track of the ever-changing support offer, smaller enterprises need to be guided through the current system, yet there is limited provision to do so.
A new business support system is currently taking shape. We suggest that it should fit the following criteria: A new business support system is currently taking shape. We suggest that it should fit the following criteria:
- Help businesses that aspire to grow
- Engage with the ‘long tail’ of smaller businesses not currently engaged
- Ensure stable institutional environment for businesses and be able adjust to changing needs of businesses.
Support provided at national level can deliver benefits of scale, while support delivered locally is more accessible for businesses. The new business support system should aim to strike the correct balance between centralised provision and localised engagement and delivery.
Current policy developments, including the Business Bank, City Deals and the recommendations of Lord Heseltine’s growth review ‘No Stone Unturned’, are all likely to change the way business support is delivered. It is important that the proposed changes are coordinated and that they simplify, rather than further complicate, the business support infrastructure.