A farewell legacy as Business Link closes

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A ‘LEGACY report’ packed with advice for anyone thinking of developing business support services has been produced by the regional support organisation Business Link Yorkshire, which closed its doors on Friday.

The ‘Learning Legacy’ document reveals key learning points from Business Link Yorkshire’s experience over the last four years, including demand for business support, business trends across the region and considerations for future development.

The report will be made available to local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and other interested parties.

Business Link Yorkshire’s closure, part of the national shut-down of all nine regional Business Link services, follows a major overhaul of national business support prompted by the Government’s spending review and the Coalition’s challenge to make this decade the most entrepreneurial in the UK’s history.

At its peak, Business Link Yorkshire employed more than 400 people and supported 165,000 different customers in a year. During the early days of the credit crunch, Business Link Yorkshire’s customer information centre was dealing with 750 calls a day and had to operate an out of hours service due to the number of urgent calls coming in at weekends.

Although operating a streamlined service across the region since April, in its final eight months, Business Link Yorkshire still managed to support more than 25,000 different customers and made over 9,000 referrals to other organisations. It also attracted over 22,000 delegates to its events programme for trading businesses and nearly 5,000 to pre-start events.

Thanking all those who had been involved with the organisation since it began, Business Link Yorkshire’s chief executive Helen West said: “Our legacy report attempts to capture our experience and our learning, both good and bad, in an open and honest fashion. The progress we made over our four years was a huge tribute to everyone involved, whose dedication and commitment, particularly over the last 18 months, have been extraordinary.”

Since its creation in April 2008, Business Link Yorkshire has provided services to more than 51,000 people thinking of setting up a business and to nearly 140,000 established businesses. It has given one-to-one adviser support to over 5,000 people and more than 18,500 different established businesses, and supported over 5,000 social enterprises.

The service has also handled over 200,000 telephone inquiries, made over 33,000 referrals to other organisations, and held nearly 9,500 events.

This support has led to the creation of nearly 12,500 jobs and the safeguarding of more than 5,000. Nearly 9,000 new businesses have been created and just under 22,000 learners for skills development identified.

It has also led to innovation vouchers totalling more than £2.5 million being awarded to over 1,000 businesses, and an increase in export turnover of over £159 million in the businesses supported.

Mrs West added: “I’d also like to acknowledge the grit and creativity of those thousands of business customers who we’ve worked with in Yorkshire and Humber. In a really challenging economic climate, they have shown the determination to innovate, work smarter, find new markets and develop new products to bolster their position for the future.”

The Learning Legacy report’s findings – gathered through formal independent evaluation, customer surveys and feedback from front-line staff – showed:

l the likelihood of high levels of demand for business support across Yorkshire and the Humber – and the key challenge of helping businesses understand what support is available and how to access it

l significant differences across the region in the types of businesses taking up support and the kinds of services that they use - particularly notable in the different types of innovation and training that businesses undertook

l a consistent demand for support with business planning, managing finances, accessing finance, HR, sales and marketing and strategic planning

l high levels of demand for events covering raising finance, starting a business, HR and employment, social media, sales strategy and market planning

l an increase in women seeking business support, and a growing interest in using social media as a potential means of business development

l an appetite for networking and collaboration among businesses, and

l a rise in businesses exploring international trade.

It also found that those thinking of starting a business were heavy users of Business Link Yorkshire’s website and on-line services, with a significant number reporting they would not have started without some form of more personal support and events.