Mark Prisk, Business Minister announced today that the new government would be shutting down the Business Link network. Real Business broke the news. Elsewhere, it was announced that the Regional Development Agencies, RDAs, would be axed.
Predictably, the RDAs and Business Links are up in arms. Lots of spokespeople have come out to insist they create value. Some business organisations, particularly in the north of England have joined in the shouting to keep the status quo.
The two reactions I have heard from the business community however, have been, ‘Great, about time too’, or, ‘What did they actually do?.’
We need to cut public sector spending. Usually the best thing a government to do to support business is to create a benign environment for entrepreneurs and then get the hell out of the way. Sadly, this seems to have been an approach that many an RDA has totally forgotten, seeing the creation of a regionally based support infrastructure as an end in itself. Goodbye to all that.
Do some of the grants distributed by the RDAs have a beneficial effect on some companies? Yes. Would they still have a beneficial effect if they were available and distributed nationally? Yes. Is it right that grants were distributed regionally which means that if there are two equally deserving companies in two different regions, only one would receive one? How about if one company was much better than the other but happened to be in a ‘hot’ region with more competition for grants? I don’t think so. How about you?
Frankly, there has been an absurd focus on supporting enterprise with government money in places that cannot absorb the investment. I know several Regional Venture funds that actively seek investments outside their own areas as they simply cannot find the deals to do for their funds in the way that they are structured. They find ways of investing in companies in other parts of the country and then set up an office in the region in question.The ECFs seem to be a much more imaginative, and potentially successful, mechanism to invest in scaleable businesses.
Reward successful entrepreneurs by looking at things like a favourable CGT and taper relief. Too much public money going into support entrepreneurship across the country is just misplaced. Spreading money wherever it is felt there isn’t enough about just creates a dependency culture. Entrepreneurship is about risk taking and winning. It is not necessarily compatible with a lets be fair for everyone ideal. We cannot create 9 Silicon Valley type environments across the UK, one in each region, just because each RDA want to be the next Silicon Glen, Fen, Corridor, Moor, Bog or whatever. For the best technology entrepreneurs in certain sectors, the best thing you can probably do is move to London, or go to Silicon Valley. No amount of money, public or private will change that.
The big question for me is what will replace these bodies and activities. I personally welcome the moves to streamline and rationalise an overly bureaucratic system. I will be more interested to see the detail of what is planned to replace. Bring it on.
I cannot imagine many people will be spending too much time worrying about the fate of Business Link and the RDAs at the BLN Growth Forum on 15th July. Those particular CEOs will be busy getting on with building great businesses in the real world. http://growthforum2010.thebln.com