Friday, January 28, 2011

The Demise of Enterprise…UK

Without apology I copy below a blog post from George Derbyshire of the NFEA - a thoughtful and questioning article on the demise of Enterprise UK.

I read about the forthcoming closure of Enterprise UK with some sadness. I, and NFEA, have been involved since its earliest days, when three or four people camped out in space borrowed from the CBI in Centrepoint. Indeed NFEA director Sally Agass acted as interim Chief Executive on one occasion.

The organisation has some energetic and creative people and they can be proud of their achievements. Enterprise Week has certainly been worthwhile, as has Enterprising Britain (in which Enterprise Furness and NWES distinguished themselves.) I wish them all well in the future.

But of course Enterprise UK fell into the trap we advise all our clients about - it was over dependent on one source of funding. It only had one client and once that tap was turned off, it had nowhere to go. And the business organisations who make up its Board can’t be expected to take up the slack.

Indeed it could be regarded simply as an outsourced part of the operations of BIS.

I simply don’t understand why the previous Government felt it right to set up new organisations to carry out its wishes everytime it had a bright idea. All it did was create new bodies which inevitably had their own overheads and administrative burdens to carry, had no long term sustainability and which ran the risk of getting in the way of existing and more established organisations.

It would have been better all round to tap into the expertise of those of us who were already active on the ground, who had the experience, stability and dare I say low overheads to deliver the goods. This way the Government would have achieved its objectives and even strengthened the existing infrastructure.

But there is a wider point to be made. This is simply one example of the way the enterprise structure is being dismantled. The RDAs and BusinessLink are in wind-down mode and every week we are hearing about more closed programmes and business advisers being declared redundant. Third sector, voluntary and social enterprise providers - and enterprise agencies are just one part of a wide and deep network of providers - are not immune from this. The shockwaves are spreading widely across the business support pond.

The irony is that these independent organisations make up the Big Society that Mr Cameron is urging upon us - dedicated people, mission-driven, locally-based, quick on their feet and committed to their local communities. At a time when the state of the economy is causing renewed concerns, when unemployment is trending upwards and public sector job losses are being declared daily the need for a vigorous enterprise sector is, I’d have thought, obvious. We can help start new businesses, we can keep people away from unemployment, we can help others to move away from benefits and we can help businesses grow. But that needs a effective and comprehensive business support strategy. Wasn’t it a famous Conservative prime minister who growled “Give us the tools and we will finish the job!”?