“Has the transition from the old Business Link system been a painful experience? Hâf (Merrifield) is nodding, so it must have been. It is fair to say that the system had a lot of conflicting demands made of it over a comparatively short period.”
David Irwin. CEO of the Small Business Service (2nd May 2001)
On 3rd April 2000, the Labour Government launched the Small Business Service (SBS). This new organisation was modeled on the US Small Business Administration, an independent agency of the Federal Government whose role was to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns”. The Small Business Service would oversee a rationalisation program that effectively reduced the number of Business Link operators by half.
“The British Chambers of Commerce remarked to us that they were ‘surprised to receive the first drafts of Small Business Service (SBS) contracts which focused very much on inputs, with page upon page of financial, operational and information requirements that would tie-up resource that should be customer-facing. This seemed inappropriate from an organisation that has the function of championing against red tape in Government’.”
House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee 9th May 2001
Chapter 7 explores why the Government changed course and pursued a volume policy, the number of businesses helped becoming the dominant headline target. It challenges whether that strategy was right for small business.