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January 07, 2011

Business Link closures won’t leave support gap, claims BIS

The Government has confirmed that the current network of regional Business Links will be closed down by 25 November this year, but reassured small firms there won’t be a gap in support before a new system is introduced, writes Kate Horstead.

The closure date was confirmed in the new Bigger, Better Business report, which also outlined the Government’s plans to introduce a new national telephone support helpline and update the current Businesslink.gov website.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokesman said that the new support would be in place before the Business Links are scrapped. "There won’t be a gap – the updated website and helpline will be up and running before the Business Links go," he said.

"The updated Businesslink.gov website will bring together all the information that small firms need," he added. "But if they can’t find what they are looking for there, there is one national contact centre that they can call, and they will be passed on to an expert that can deal with their sector. However, the one thing it won’t provide that the Business Links do is regional information."

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive, George Cowcher, warned that the Businesslink.gov website and the contact centre were "inadequate" for small firms’ needs.

"They are unlikely to be able to provide businesses with the same degree of help and support that the regional Business Links have offered," he said. "The problem is that sources of support are being closed down and funding is being withdrawn, with no thought for continuity or how businesses will adjust from one system to the other," added Cowcher.

The Government has also announced that the New Enterprise Allowance, due to be launched in autumn 2011 to provide funding and mentoring to unemployed people with viable business ideas, will be expanded to benefit 40,000 entrepreneurs (double the previously-announced 20,000). The Department for Work and Pensions initiative will be co-ordinated by Jobcentre Plus.

A new system of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) is being introduced by the Government to replace the current Regional Development Agencies. The first 24 LEPs, including those in Greater Manchester, Leicester and Leicestershire, and West of England, have been given the go-ahead to establish boards and start assessing their priorities.