The ex-Dragon, who heads the Conservative Party’s Small Business Taskforce, has just completed a wide-ranging review of the various support services on offer to start-ups and small businesses – and he didn’t like what he found. Richard said the current system – which involves a staggering 3,000 different services run by 2,000 different providers – was ‘overly complex, ineffective and undirected’ and thinks that the whole thing needs a total overhaul.
Richard wants to abolish completely the current system of regional development authorities and Business Link services, all of which operate in totally different ways. This is so confusing for small businesses, he says, that a measly 0.5% of them are satisfied with the help they receive. It’s also horribly expensive and inefficient – according to Richard, the Government is spending £10-12bn a year on these myriad schemes, and at least a third of this is entirely wasted on admin costs. That’s about £3bn of taxpayer’s money down the drain every year.
His solution is to replace all this with one centralized online resource: a Business Information Service. Support providers would be able to advertise their services on the site, and any businesses that used them would provide an eBay-style feedback report on how they did (rather than leaving it to the Government to work out if they’re any good). More efficient and transparent, he reckons.
But that’s not all the Government can do. He also wants it to talk to banks and financiers about improving access to finance to help new companies get off the ground; he wants to set targets and publish results for the proportion of public sector contracts given to smaller businesses; and he also wants to overhaul and expand the teaching of Enterprise in schools (an idea that may not be received warmly by over-worked teachers).
In other words, he appears to think that the present government is doing virtually nothing right – a rather embarrassing conclusion for Gordon Brown, who spent so much time at the Treasury claiming to be a champion of enterprise. Of course this was always likely to be the result of a Tory study – although Richard insists he has no political affiliation. ‘Our critique and recommendations are based on a combination of factual evidence, personal experience and advice from the business community, and are equally applicable whoever is in Government,’ he said.
And since the PM might be starring in his own reality TV show soon (if Hazel Blears has anything to do with it), perhaps that might make him more sympathetic to the ex-Dragon..?