Apr 23

Business Support Simplification – an analysis

Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix

Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix

Is it possible for a Government to provide simple support to businesses?

Well the UK Government thinks it is, but recognises that it hasn’t been very good at the simple part. A few years ago some wag pointed out that there were over 3,000 different grants, programmes, schemes, advice networks, etc (nobody really knew the exact number), and that it was something of a mess. In the 2006 Budget the Government promised to reduce this to around 100. The latest plan is to get this down to 30.

As Dan Martin over at businesszone.co.uk more recently pointed out, this simple list of 30 has already become less simple.

As part of an application to the recent SWRDA post for Head of Business Innovation, I thought I’d revisit BSSP from a more strategic perspective. While I have dealt directly with several of the individual ‘products’ (as they’re called) and have been involved in various briefing and discussion around the rest, I’ve not formally reviewed the whole documentation associated with these changes.

Enter Nigel Legg at Katugas Lex. I emailed over three documents: Solutions for business: supporting success, The economic drivers of Government-funded business support: supporting analysis for ‘Solutions for business: supporting success’ and the South West Regional Development Agency’s Regional Economic Strategy. I asked Nigel to see what the key themes and constructs that emerged from within these three documents, but didn’t set any specific boundaries or expectations.

After a couple of days Nigel emailed to say he’d finished and invited me round for a presentation and discussion.

A note on the analysis method before getting into the findings. Each document was broken down and repeating words found, for each document the top 30 to 40 words were included in the supporting excel report. These words were then grouped to identify key themes with around 13 per document. Because of the way the statistics works, you don’t receive an absolute measure of thematic importance. For example, with the Economic Drivers the most connected theme was “business” with “market” being 73% as connected as “business” and “information” being 50% as connected as “business”. So you do get a very good internal feel for the focus and thrust of the document, Nigel also included a combined report of all three documents.

The economic drivers of Government-funded business support

The economic drivers of Government-funded business support

As you’d expect the dominant themes are around business, support, innovation, economics with a heavier weighting towards regional and south west for the SWRDA document. What was more interesting was what wasn’t there.

The market was clearly front and centre in the economic justification. Innovation is clearly linked to productivity and there’s a reasonable focus on benefits (through examples). Unfortunately “profit” or “finance” didn’t make the ranking for any of the documents.

Providing information is clearly seen as a benefit and service to inform the businesses understanding of the market and various support available. As I understand it this is a core function of the Business Links through their IDB (Infomation, Diagnosis & Brokerage).

Despite having a whole chapter on Skills (Chapter 3), they don’t show up as a key theme. The two main ‘products’ here are Train to Gain and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. Hidden away is a very interesting sounding service “Coaching for High Growth”.

The actual semanic map of the BSSP document wasn’t that surprising on its own. The main focus was around businesses and economic achievement, with a sizable grouping around Government Support, the schemes themselves and eligibility.

SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy

SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy

Its worth noting at the outset that the SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy goes much wider than business innovation or government support for businesses. There were quite sizable thematic groupings around people and future communities and their connection to the broad economy of the region. There was also consideration on the challenges and changes associated with growth.

The focus in general has moved away from a historical focus on employment toward productivity (at least as far as business is concerned). Interestingly, important and business are closely linked themes.

Possibly the most noticeable shift between the two maps is the disappearances of “market”, “innovation” and “enterprise” as top level themes.

Some thoughts

  • Personally I would have liked to have seen more evidence of developing market understanding and providing solutions to problems in the market.
  • I’d also have liked to see more emphasis on developing the higher skills for entrepreneurship and innovation (principally team building).
  • The emphasis on innovation & enterprise at the national level is excellent, as is the lack government focus on specific sectors (though this has already changed with the various sector bail-outs).
  • It would have been nice to see more innovation & enterprise focus in the SWRDA RES, but moving from an employment focus to productivity is a start
Feb 07

Regional Strategy & Monty Python

Today was mostly spent in Exeter, at their new rugby stadium and conference venue (Sandy Park) at a consultation day for SWRDA’s new Corporate Plan. Ironically, given one of the Regional priorities is to be Carbon Neutral in new projects by 2011 and lots of folk had been persuaded to take the train, the trains were cancelled with the ensuing delays, confusion and chaos. Those of us that travelled by iron horse had no such problems.

The big drive, amongst other things, is to move from employment-led growth to productivity-led growth. Which is a good and noble thing, but rather misses the opportunity to go straight for competitive advantage-led growth. Given most of the attendants were from the public sector, it’ll be interesting how they perceive productivity.

In fact it was the part of the agenda ‘The Most Important things the RDA can do’ that triggered my Monty Python alarm when someone (almost verbatim to Life of Brian just after Brian gets captured) called for the corporate plan to have a plan to actually do something, lets stop planning and actually do, whole new motion, generally seconded, etc.

It took Sean Fielding from Exeter University, after a quick and shameless plug for his institution, to make reference to competitive advantage.

After coffee and networking, 10 flipcharts were set up with statement / questions posted that roughly related to parts of the Corporate Plan. Each table began at its corresponding flip chart number, discussed the topic for 4 mins, then moved to the next flip chart, repeat, rinse, etc. One hour later everyone had contributed thoughts on all the topics and was desperate for lunch. Apart from a bit of chaos setting up, things went smoothing and there were some interesting points raised (lots on spatial planning, housing, and a bit of a gripe about SWRDA). As Jane Henderson (CEO, SWRDA) pointed out in the wrap up, some of the requests were for things that SWRDA was doing but hadn’t told everyone about, and some of the points weren’t SWRDA’s responsibility or mandate to address.

Whether anything changes in the final Corporate Plan, we’ll see.

It was a very different crowd to the one I normally circulate in so that was interesting. A couple of connections were made, a couple were missed, too early to say the longer term outcome.