Business Advisers' Survey - Business support priorities

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The latest BAD News survey, conducted in June 2010, asked business advisers about proposed Government reform of business support over the next five years. The results have revealed front-line practitioners' opinions about where support should be targeted, the key priority business sectors and the most favoured methods of intervention.

Almost 400 front-line advisers and business support practitioners from around the UK took part in the survey.

Respondents were from a wide variety of backgrounds including independent business advisers/consultants, and advisers employed by a broad cross-section of support providers including Business Link (and equivalents in Scotland and Wales), local enterprise agencies, Chambers of Commerce, local councils, business reference libraries, universities/colleges, trade associations, charities, BICs, accountants and training providers.

Half of respondents have worked in business support for more than ten years, with one in six for more than 20 years.

Headline results from the survey are as follows:

  •     Advisers believe the highest priorities for support should be for existing firms with 10+ employees, (80% rated this as essential) closely followed by new start ups at 77%.
  •     92% believe support should be available to anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity or location - and 64% are opposed to support specifically targeted at women and minority groups.
  •     85% say manufacturers and exporters are the top priority sector, followed by IT, digital and creative industries at 48% - and only 14% are in favour of prioritising support for home-based and lifestyle enterprises.
  •     Most favoured method of intervention is local face-to-face advice/counselling (73% rated this as essential) followed by subsidised or free training at 58% - and the least favoured intervention (which just 10% of respondents rated as essential) was proposed growth hubs similar to British Library Business & Intellectual Property Centre.
  •     Asked about the introduction of an "enterprise allowance" scheme for business start ups showed 76% are in favour with 24% against its introduction.

A breakdown of the survey results is as follows:
How should the Government prioritise business support over the next 3-5 years?
Rated as essential
1.    Support existing small/medium firms with 10+ staff to grow and create jobs - 80%
2.    Encourage new start ups across the board - 77%
3.    Support existing freelancers/sole traders and micros with 1-5 employees - 69%
4.    Support larger enterprises with 50+ employees to expand or diversify - 48%
5.    Encourage part-time and second income enterprises - 19%
Who should the Government prioritise or target for support?
Agreed this is a priority
1.    Support available for anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity or location - 92%
2.    Support to be targeted at the long-term unemployed - 52%
3.    Support targeted to those aged over 50 - 51%
4.    Support targeted to those aged under 25 - 50%
5.    Targeted support not necessary as those with true potential will look
after themselves - 39%
6.    Support targeted at disadvantaged groups, minorities and women - 36%
Which specific business sectors if any should be prioritised for support
Rated as essential
1.    Manufacturers and exporters - 85%
2.    IT, digital and creative sectors - 48%
3.    Local traders, retailers and shops - 48%
4.    Agricultural, rural and tourism - 41%
5.    All sectors should be prioritised equally - 40%
6.    Social enterprises and charities - 30%
7.    Service sector especially finance, professional and business services - 26%
8.    Arts, craft and artisan businesses - 14%
9.    Home based, kitchen table, lifestyle and hobby-based businesses - 14%
What type of intervention will most benefit start ups and small businesses?
Rated as essential
1.    Face-to-face advice/counselling through local enterprise agencies - 73%
2.    Free or subsidised training in core skills - 58%
3.    Grants/soft loans for genuine projects eg marketing, e-commerce, market research - 42%
4.    'Packaged' advice/counselling alongside tailored training - 38%
5.    Peer-to-peer networking, seminars and workshops run by existing business owners - 32%
6.    Online support via a national website - 21%
7.    Godparenting approach where larger firms 'adopt' and mentor smaller enterprises - 13%
8.    Growth hubs around the UK similar to the British Library Business & Intellectual Property Centre - 10%
On the call to reintroduce payment of an allowance to new business start ups similar to the Enterprise Allowance Scheme from the 1990s.

  •     In favour - 76%
  •     Against - 24%

You can view individual comments (mostly anonymously supplied) which were made by respondents to the survey.
Key topics for discussion

  •     85% of respondents believe manufacturers and exporters are the key sector for prioritisation, and probably targeted at existing firms in the 10+ employee size band. Does the current role of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) stretch far enough? How will any gap in provision - such as training, subsidised market research, or sector-specific consultancy - be met? An enhancement of the role played by Chambers?
  •     Only 14% of respondents are in favour of prioritising support for home-based and lifestyle enterprises - with a similar response for the arts and crafts sector. However, as this is where the volume of demand for start up and enterprise support will possibly lie - for example hobby-based start ups, recent redundancies, downshifters, unemployed graduates, unemployed professionals, semi-retirees, part-time and second income enterprises - how can this particular gap be filled? There are probably millions of people in this category and are heavy consumers of support.
  •     Many survey respondents highlighted the fact that much of the work of an enterprise agency is made up of supporting 3-4 prospective start ups who decide not to start for every one that does go on to start up. The cost of support per successful outcome is therefore higher than generally realised. However it is widely reported that there is around an 80% three-year survival rate for those who receive support at start up and in their early stages.
  •     90% of respondents are in favour of a fully inclusive business support policy. Would this broadening of eligibility further increase the quality of start ups, or result in an increase in demand where there is insufficient capacity to supply?
  •     Local face-to-face advice/counselling and training in core business skills is shown to be the essential intervention - with other support as "nice to have" - and probably reflects where demand (local needs of enterprises) meets supply (the extensive support expertise that is already out there on the front line).
  •     With regard to the majority in favour of introducing an Enterprise Allowance, there are arguments that this should be available for all start ups, but in the current economic climate this is probably a cost which is beyond what the Exchequer can afford - hence should be earmarked for unemployed start ups.

Cobweb

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Marianne Whitfield
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