News that the Government’s fledgling Consultancy Brokerage Service is unlikely to ever get off the ground comes as no surprise to any designer who has received one of the service’s voluminous application forms.
Designed to serve the Business Links network, the CBS was set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to provide a national network of consultancy services, including design – a directory for Business Link counsellors to marry consultants and clients.
The database was due to be up and running by this spring, but the launch date has been constantly put off.
And now there is ambiguity about whether or not Salford University Business Services, which was appointed to run the service, is still doing that job. A DTI spokeswoman told Design Week that Salford “is no longer contracted to run the CBS”, but then called back to say that while Salford is still under contract, the DTI is taking a serious look at the future of the CBS because of the pitiful uptake to date. “It is being looked at in light of the response,” she said.
But a spokesman for PERA International, which was appointed to run the design element of the CBS, says the service is no longer operational.
Design Council design director Sean Blair’s criticism of the service as “absurdly bureaucratic and incredibly expensive” points to two reasons why the service seems doomed to failure.
The cost of joining something which is unproven, coupled with the logistics of filling in such an “unwieldy” application document, were enough to put consultancies off, agrees Design Business Association chairman and Elmwood managing director Jonathan Sands.
The total cost for a bigger consultancy to join was put at 2300, most of which had to be paid annually. A sole trader would be expected to pay 475, and these estimates did not include introduction fees (DW 17 February).
Bob Marshall, a newly appointed design adviser for Business Link in Devon and Cornwall, makes a moot point: “A lot of design consultancies in this area are small and would not be able to afford the prices.” While he admits that “if the CBS had been there, it would have useful”, he also plans to source design through his own database.
The fact that the Business Link network is far from fully active is also a huge discouragement to potential design recruits. Sands believes it was premature to set up a register while the Business Links had yet to prove themselves.
Both Sands and Chartered Society of Designers director Brian Lymbery accuse the CBS of being badly researched and failing to consult relevant design bodies. “The CBS was not developed with the needs of the client and the consultancy in mind,” comments Lymbery.
Adding to the chorus of disapproval is the Labour Party. “The scheme is obviously not working, yet this Government refuses to face this fact,” says shadow secretary for trade and industry Jack Cunningham.
Lymbery urges the DTI not to try to revive the service. “It would be better to encourage organisations which have the expertise to get on with their own thing in their own way,” he says.
The two main design bodies are already vying to replace the CBS. The DBA Directory, to be published in colour in October, will go out to every Business Link. “The CBS was meant to be the definitive sourcing guide – the DBA directory will fill that gap,” claims Sands.
And the CSD, which advised its members against joining the CBS, will announce a design client advisory service this autumn (DW 4 August).
All in all, the CBS has flopped. Or as one source succinctly puts it: “It is dead.”