Enterprise UK to hand out its final tenner

The enterprise charity is to shut after the Government withdrew funding. It's a quasi-quango perhaps - but one that deserved to escape the bonfire?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 10 Jan 2012
Sad news from enterprise charity Enterprise UK, which has decided to close its doors after the Government withdrew funding as part of the spending cuts. The organisation, which encourages young people to set up their own businesses through initiatives like Global Entrepreneurship Week, had been going since 2004, but board members apparently decided it couldn’t keep going without the £3.8m it received each year from the Business Department. It wasn't an ideal set-up: even the organisation’s CEO has admitted that its funding model was unrealistic. But the fact that it’s had to close its doors completely seems a little off-message, as far as the Government is concerned...

It’s an unfortunate end for an organisation that enjoys a pretty positive reputation among the UK’s enterprise community. There are few business owners who haven’t heard of Enterprise Week, which gained its ‘Global’ prefix in 2008 and eventually spread to more than 32,000 events in 88 countries. Make Your Mark With a Tenner, Enterprise UK’s other flagship initiative, which gives school children £10 to start their own business and make as much profit as possible, had something in the region of 30,000 participants this year. So there’s no question it had a big impact.

But there had been speculation that things would have to change. Earlier this month, CEO Tom Bewick admitted the organisation’s government-funded model was ‘no longer fit for purpose for a business-led, independent charitable body that purports to support and nurture a more entrepreneurial culture in the UK’. In other words, it wasn’t practising what it was preaching. And since it was being funded by the taxpayer (to the tune of several million pounds a year), making it a quasi-quango, it was always likely to share the fate of all those other quangos the Government is trying to put on a bonfire.

Some might argue that rather than faffing around with enterprise education bodies, the Government would be better off putting its millions directly into the pockets of entrepreneurs and small business owners. But that rather ignores the role Enterprise UK played in nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs – who might one day go on to build the kind of companies that would repay this relatively small investment many times over. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted to make the next few years ‘some of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history’, and the best way to do that would be to ‘focus relentlessly on supporting growth and driving job creation across our economy’. So it seems an odd time to be effectively pulling the plug on one of the UK’s leading enterprise charities.

Still, there is some good news: both GEW and Make Your Mark will run this year, and possibly beyond (via new funding sources). ‘I want to see it carry on for years to come,’ Tenner founder Oli Barrett told MT. It also seems likely that other organisations will appear to fill the gap, which aren’t so reliant on public money. In fact, as Barrett suggests, perhaps this is a good time for private sector companies to step up and do their bit for the future of UK enterprise?

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