The Government is expected to axe its Consultancy Brokerage Scheme before the controversial service’s delayed launch. The scheme never got off the ground after a pitiful response by designers and other consultants.
The CBS was intended to act as a directory from which Business Link advisers would source a range of services such as design for local clients.
But the Department of Trade and Industry, which hoped to enrol 10 000 members to the service, only received 250 applicants.
“In light of the response, we are reconsidering the CBS and how it can be taken forward in the future,” says a DTI spokeswoman.
In the meantime, the CBS has stopped sending out new application forms and consultancies which had already signed up have reportedly had their membership fees returned.
Labour’s shadow secretary for trade and industry Jack Cunningham is considering tabling a Parliamentary question asking how much the failure of the CBS has cost the DTI.
Salford University Business Services’ continued role as the CBS’ contractor is also in doubt. A spokesman for PERA International, which is responsible for running design for the CBS, says: “The CBS is no longer operational but there are ongoing trials with Business Links.”
News of the uncertain future of the CBS comes as the Federation of Small Business warns that design groups and other consultancy services may be forced into mandatory registration as a way of financing Business Links.
As the Government has pledged a further 100m to bolster the Business Links Service, “we are slowly edging ever nearer to a compulsory national statutory register of businesses”, says the lobbying group for the small business sector.
“With the mediocre results of Business Links to date, and the fact that they were ultimately to become self-funding, it is now apparent that the Government accepts it will remain a part-paymaster for the foreseeable future, whatever the success or failure of individual Business Link Centres,” says the FSB report.
(See News Analysis, page 8)