I have mixed feelings about this, but really need to see what’s going to happen during transition to new arrangements, and once they’re in place.
My own experience of using the Business Link service was adequate. I did feel as if most of the advisors didn’t have any real, credible experience, but they did manage to give me a lot of useful information to take away and digest. The snag was, this was all information that was available elsewhere, in particular from HM Revenue & Customs, or form a couple of books on starting up. I was also concerned that there didn’t appear to be much appreciation of the market I was thinking about going into, independent project and programme management consulting. They seemed quite comfortable talking to me about opening a shop, or starting up a ”trade” business like plumbing, but as soon as we got into the slightly intangible they weren’t good. I know that there was, and remains, a demand for it as other sources of advice were pretty well-informed about it.
I was left with the feeling that the advice I got didn’t really give me anything more than I got from the Chambers of Commerce, a decent accountancy firm or by accessing one of a number of networking groups around. Even the banks deliver some useful advice, although that is on the basis that they’re trying to sell their own services, although again their small business advisers in the main didn’t have any small business experience.
So is it a great loss? I’m not convinced that it is. Clearly coming up with some form of local partnership bears risks, one of the more common comments I’m seeing is that small startups can’t afford the rates charged by professional advisers. I’m not convinced, a decent accountant should be able to pay for themselves and if demand kicks off in the lower range then someone can step up to provide it.
Is the presence of Business Link actually suppressing market activity? Quite probably, why pay if someone is there to give advice for nothing. That said I’m more comfortable with the advice given by someone who’s being paid for it, and has a reputation to think about.
Is it a great loss? I’m not convinced. There are plenty of other opportunities for startups and small businesses to get advice, some better than others.