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News - 15 September 2007

SMEs should be a Government priority not an afterthought

As the Government concludes its consultation on Simplified Business Support small businesses are concerned that they are being sidelined. Many think that business support is targeted mainly at bigger businesses. And there are no clear signs that this is about to change.

Almost half (49%) of small businesses said that any simplified Government business support scheme must be targeted more at them and less at big businesses, according to a survey conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Over half (53%) say there is a need to remove the big business bias from all services. But the feeling is that the emphasis is moving in the opposite direction.

For example in Brighton & Hove, a city buzzing with young entrepreneurs in new media and the creative industries, a city where nearly 9 out ten businesses employ fewer than 10 people, there is no longer a publicly funded enterprise agency based in the city.

Given that half of respondents to the FSB survey also said they would prefer to have an independently tailored service geared towards the small business sector it may be unlikely that many small businesses will take the time to seek out mainstream Business Link support.

The Government’s plan is to rationalise business support services from 3,000 to around 100. This sounds like a step in the right direction but businesses are concerned that this may make it harder for them to meet the qualifying criteria and they may find it impossible to get help with growing their business. There is also something of a mystery surrounding how the target figure of 100 was actually arrived at.

The FSB survey also showed that small businesses found that government services are not being branded correctly with 47% saying they were unaware of Government-funded support services.

Small businesses are also not very impressed with the standard of business advisers. According to the survey 36% of business owners want to see advisers who can do a bit more than just the basic diagnostic. They want specific business advice from their business adviser about their specific situation and don’t think it seems too much to expect.

Colin Willman, FSB Business Support Chairman, said, "It is quite clear that small businesses feel disaffected and alienated from the majority of government business services which, when they are aware of them, they see as being geared towards big business.

"Yet again we are reminding the government of one of their own soundbites, which is to 'think small first'. No doubt the rationalisation of business support services from 3,000 to about 100 will help, but again, only if there is an emphasis on marketing these in a much clearer manner. The Government needs to offer greater acknowledgement to small businesses and the specific challenges they face. This applies equally to those at a start up level, supporting those who wish to remain steady, and those looking for growth."


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Willman, Colin


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