Clearing up doubts about Business Links

I refer to a letter from Mr Hasset (DW 31 May) where he appears to be missing the point of Business Links. His claims are largely inaccurate and totally unsupported by my experience to date.

With support from the Design Council and the Department of Trade and Industry, the aims of design counsellors in Business Links are to encourage greater understanding of design among small- to medium-sized enterprises with up to 250 employees, and to place design on the agenda as a core strategic business tool. Historically, take-up of design services has been particularly low within the small-business sector, and there is general recognition that this needs to be addressed to improve upon existing competitiveness and profitability in the UK.

Business Links were each given three years start-up funding. Beyond this the Government has made it absolutely clear that it will continue to receive funding for specific services such as design. The idea that there is a cliff-edge of funding stopping after three years is nonsense. In addition, there are strong messages of support from the other political parties. The Labour Party is on record as stating that the “first stop shop” concept of Business Links was indeed its idea.

On the subject of referrals, Business Link Leeds does not wish to impose itself on consultancies and their clients. We have a proactive approach to locating and visiting companies with growth potential within targeted sectors. One of our specific aims is to get to those businesses which do not take external advice to promote the benefits of such advice, including design.

And what about making a living from Business Link schemes? Mr Hasset fears that consultancies’ fees under such schemes cannot exceed 350 a day. Yet these schemes allow for up to 50 per cent funding of consultancy work by agreement with an appropriate consultant and a client (that is without working to a 350 daily rate limit.) Take-up levels and demand for this service in Leeds is particularly high, so we assume both consultants and clients approve of it. It is important to note that design consultants are unlikely to be inundated with projects from design counsellors. Involving external consultants in effective design-related projects is an important part of our role.

With regard to accreditation – as Mr Hasset is aware – no central and singularly accepted scheme exists for accrediting design consultants. Business Links have a duty however, both to the DTI and to our clients, to ensure that suppliers fit within a quality assurance policy. Since no agreed vehicle exists, Business Links in the Midlands, for example, is ensuring that design consultants are in a position to participate in DTI and Business Link schemes.

On a more positive note, many design counsellors are enjoying tremendous support from local design consultants. In West Yorkshire for example, we are spoilt with a wealth of design experience and support.

The main benefit of the role of a design counsellor is in raising awareness of the value of design as a business tool, and should be viewed in the long-term. All design counsellors’ positions are funded for at least three years, which is hardly a “flash in the pan”, and with such healthy support here in west Yorkshire, I am confident that we can make a difference.

Dan Trowsdale

Design counsellor

Business Link Leeds

Leeds LS1 4LT

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