Troubled by the demise of Business Link

Last night I attended a meeting at Bowood. Wiltshire Council had gathered together about one hundred local business leaders to gather opinions as to how the council might improve support for businesses in Wiltshire. Many of the people there had been invited because they are members of local Chambers of Commerce (I am Vice President for Corsham).

The trigger for the event was the government's announcement that it will scrap Regional Development Authorities, Business Link, and Train to Gain. Although their plans are far from clear, it looks as if support for business will have to be provided increasingly by local councils or groups of councils (“Local Enterprise Partnerships”). The meeting was well organised, with discussion in small groups about concerns and priorities, and speeches from Council officers Steve Stone (Chairman of Wiltshire Strategic Economic Partnership Ltd), Andrew Kerr (CEO), and Leader of the council Jane Scott OBE.

Recent news items have highlighted that seventy graduates are chasing each graduate job at the moment, and that 10% of last years' graduates are still unemployed. Those who fail in a search for employment will either end up with less-than-satisfying jobs for which they are over qualified, become long-term unemployed, or choose to set up their own business. Young people, whether graduates or not, can no longer rely on stable long-term employment with a large employer as they could a few decades ago, nor is a degree or college qualification a ticket to a job, so increasingly starting a business is an important option. This means that young people need to develop a range of skills for work-readiness to equip them for a career which may include starting a business.

Therefore government support for business start-ups needs to be extended not abandoned, and organised nationally where appropriate. It troubles me that support for business start-ups may be reduced just at a time when it is needed more. (Business Link training is motivating and informative and, as well as covering marketing and strategic and financial planning, briefs people on all the national legislation they need to obey. National legislation seems to me to need nationally organised training.)

Other topics discussed included the need to balance education at different levels, develop apprenticeships, publicise Wiltshire's business good news stories, encourage Wiltshire people who go to university elsewhere to return to Wiltshire to work, develop careers information in schools so that young people think career rather than college, improve transport, and more. Such consultations have not happened before, so it is difficult to know what the outcome will be.

You and I will watch with interest. If Business Link's services do not continue in some way, then those starting up businesses, or seeking to develop them, will have to rely more on the private sector for training and coaching, such as your own Finding True North.

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