ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) has called for an entirely new model of business support to replace the failed Business Link brokerage service, following Conservative claims that they will scrap it.
Glenn Collins, Head of Advisory Services at ACCA UK, welcomed proposals to radically reform business support. Mr Collins said: “Tinkering around the edges will not save Business Link. The brokerage model of business support never worked in the first place, and Business Link never became an adviser of choice or the first port of call – despite being free and having the Government’s unqualified support.”
Over the years, ACCA has been consistently critical of the way Business Link’s brokerage system works, and has noted in particular how poorly it has treated professional accountants. Professor Robin Jarvis, Head of ACCA’s Small Business Unit, explained:
“If you were to call in today and ask for an accountant, you would be given three practices at random from an approved list – regardless of their expertise or their record of service. This would come with little guarantee of their competence as anyone is allowed to call themselves an accountant. If, on the other hand, you were to ask for a business consultant, Business Link would not be able to refer you to a professional accountant, however suitable or experienced. They won’t be on the approved list because they fall into a different box in the grid.”
Yet despite supporting some of the Conservatives’ plans, ACCA has stressed that their preferred approach – dealing with the macro conditions and getting out of the way – cannot be the final word on business support.
Professor Jarvis said: “We are aware of the research on business support. We know that macro-economic conditions are more important than micro-interventions in supporting enterprise. Yet when areas of market failure are proven to exist no one would question the government’s right to intervene. The point is to do this through acknowledged, valued private sector advisers.”
The professional body for accountants has made it clear that the Government’s online business information portal, www.businesslink.gov.uk, is an excellent tool for small businesses and that accountants are happy to support it. But ACCA noted that it needs to be taken out of the shadow of the ailing bricks-and-mortar service before it’s too late.
Glenn Collins explained: “Just over a year ago, the Anderson Review reported how the poor reputation of the Business Link adviser network was holding back the online resource. Sarah Anderson and her team were so concerned that they called for a rebranding to salvage the website, but this was ignored. This problem hasn’t gone away, the good on-line work risks not reaching small businesses. There is still time to rebrand and reach the audience if we have action now.”