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Portfolio Business Enterprise

Gateway to success

William Peakin Business Correspondent

New contracts offer an opportunity to increase local authorities’ economic impact

Te terms of the new Business Gateway contract are being renegotiated between local authorities and COSLA, based on the Scottish Government’s economic strategy. Te current contracts with providing companies, which were agreed when Scottish Enterprise was still responsible for the small business advice service, expire in autumn next year.

Tis will be the first time that local authorities will have had primary control over the nature of the service. Responsibility for Business Gateway was handed to councils by the SNP during its first term of government when it saw through a reorganisation of the enterprise network. By next year, local authorities may also have taken over the gateway’s helpline which is still handled by Scottish Enterprise as part of the transfer of responsibilities. Te cost of delivering Business Gateway

Parliament’s key questions for Business Gateway

■ How successful have the previous contracts been in securing effective business support services?

■ What should comprise the “core services” in the new contracts, at a time when resources for local economic development, which are not ring-fenced, may be in decline?

■ What flexibility will be necessary within the new contracts to allow for changing economic circumstances?

■ What is the optimum length for the contracts?

■ Are improvements to the marketing of services necessary?

■ How can the contracts ensure a minimum quality of service provision?

■ Should contracts be based entirely on the Scottish Government’s economic strategy or is there room for local flexibility?

■ What targets are appropriate for assessing growth?

■ How can the contract be designed to ensure services meet the needs of “non-standard”

■ Has the transfer of services to local authorities promoted a more business-friendly ethos within local authorities as a whole?

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between 2008/09 and 2010/11 was around £44.2m, including central administration, and it is estimated that it generated an additional £301m for the Scottish economy. By aligning with the Government’s economic strategy, the aim will be to increase the number of successful, competitive businesses; provide targeted support to business to help them pursue opportunities outside Scotland and to develop internationally competitive firms; provide advice and information to new businesses in the creative industries sector; and support a broader approach to business innovation in Scotland, focusing on the link between Scotland’s research base and business innovation, addressing low levels of business research and development.


“What these core services are and how they are delivered is going to be vital”

At the end of this month, local authorities will

report on what they think should be included in a new contract and what services they can deliver. Next month, the Business Gateway Board (made up of Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Local Authorities Economic Development Group) will approve what service will be delivered by each local

Legal and financial aspects of contracts will be completed by local authorities at the beginning of next year after which will follow a 55 day procurement and tender process. Bids will be assessed next March and new contractors appointed by July, in time for the contracts to operate from September next year. Te Business Gateway Operational Network commissioned an independent evaluation entitled ‘A Business Gateway National Evaluation and Future Arrangements for the Delivery of Business Gateway’, which was published in June this year. It found limited appetite for a wholesale change to the model; the transfer has been a major undertaking and achieved without too much disruption to businesses. Local authorities have embraced Business Gateway and started to make

it work for their local areas and there is value in the national brand, said the report. It needs to be reinforced, it said, rather than diluted or abandoned. “Te Business Gateway has achieved the transference to the local authorities relatively smoothly, delivering a considerable volume of activity, which has increased year-on-year despite the economic challenges,” it said. “Tere is

companies, such as social enterprises, cooperatives, not-for-profit firms, etc? How should they work alongside the new Just Enterprise service?

■ What is the most desirable method of contracting for future services (is there a risk that, under competitive tender, local knowledge and expertise could be lost)?

■ Is re-tendering over such a long timeframe necessary? What is the risk of disruption to delivery and damage to the morale of staff delivering services?

■ How do experiences of in-house delivery compare with outsourced delivery models?

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