The significance given to design by the all-party trade and industry committee looking into the Business Links network was encouraging. The fact that the MPs took on board recommendations from the Chartered Society of Designers – and devoted almost a page of their 59-page report to the role of design counsellors – is also heartening.
Less impressive is the apparent lack of information provided by the Business Links network on the role of design counsellors. One Link even questioned the need for design counsellors. It is “not convinced the demand [for design counsellors] is there”. Such a lack of awareness points to issues of quality within the Business Links network.
According to MPs, this issue, and the question of financial viability of Business Links, still needs to be addressed by the Department of Trade and Industry. This is the fifth report the all-party committee has produced into the network, and it covers a lot of old ground.
The report acknowledges that the network is a help to small businesses, but states “identification and promotion of best practice has been haphazard and ineffective”. The MPs add there is not enough useful information available publicly, with each Link devising its own monitoring.
The report is scathing about the plans on which Business Links have been set up, and the complacency of the DTI.
MPs call for the DTI to play a more significant role in monitoring and funding the Links. “The DTI has a responsibility for ensuring that the Business Link network is successful. It is unlikely that there could be a second chance to create a business support network, and we believe the DTI needs to be more actively involved in supervising the network during what are still formative years,” state the MPs.
The DTI is also advised to encourage Business Links to recognise each others’ registers of consultants, or to establish regional registers. And the Links should examine relationships with trade associations and other service providers so information about services is not duplicated and is readily available to Business Links advisors.
Many of the committee’s recommendations and conclusions are not new: the points raised in the report have been raised on numerous occasions elsewhere. But the value of the report lies in the pressure that can now be brought to bear on how the Business Links network develops.
The DTI has been made aware of the drawbacks of the network through the report. How the DTI will respond remains to be seen.