Are Business Links a mere flash in the pan?

I refer to Keith Dunton’s letter regarding Business Links and their future role in approving design consultancies (DW 17 May).

Having been involved in the formulation and submission of grant applications for Business Links, I fail to see how they, above organisations such as the Design Business Association and the Chartered Society of Designers, consider themselves capable of accrediting design consultancies.

As I understand it, Business Links have to become self sufficient by earning fees and commissions from the local co-ordination of design consultancies and similar disciplines. Supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and local industry, Business Links are yet another small-firms service lookalike with a stated aim of becoming self-funding within three years. There are no guarantees of self-sufficiency and therefore Business Links, like their many predecessors, could quite simply disappear. A future change in Government may also put paid to these quangos.

Furthermore, they have no track record, they are not involved in setting standards and they have neither the depth nor experience to sit in judgement over individual consultancies. With more than a dozen Business Links in this area, each costing in excess of 1m of taxpayers money over the next three years to establish, it will be interesting to see where these self-appointed co-ordinators of business expertise will end up. Presumably, they will meet the same fate as other Government schemes such as BIS, BTAS and SFS.

Another major factor in determining the success of these schemes is that design consultancies are expected to direct potential applicants to these Business Links. My local Business Link assumes that more than 60 per cent of its workload will be generated in this fashion. However, having spent thousands of hours developing client relations, why should design consultancies put at risk the very thing that keeps them fed and clothed – that is, their relationship with their client.

The fees “permitted” under such schemes, after deductions, generally equate to a national average of 350 per day. As the director of an industrial design consultancy which has invested heavily in CAD equipment such as Catia, which costs an average of 40 000 per seat, I believe the chances of the larger, more established consultants being able to make a living from these schemes is a myth. These schemes undermine fee rates which result in continual market fragmentation, a reduction in quality and standards and a dissatisfaction with design consultants from industry.

Finally, I would point out that in the accountancy and management consulting sectors, only a handful of the major firms have actually chosen to continue their involvement with these schemes. Yes, the Arthur Andersens and KPMG Peat Marwicks of this world will happily sit on advisory panels and set up Business Links – but you ask them if they are prepared to get out of bed for less than 750 a day and you will be disappointed. The premise that Business Links actually have a role to play outside of the DBA and CSD is therefore unjustified, and market making by the Department of Trade and Industry outside of these bodies is neither justified nor warranted.

Adrian Hassett

Commercial director

Arkham Products

Bradford BD5 OYJ

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