A report by the Centre for Cities has confirmed what we might have already assumed, that Birmingham business is ‘drowning in a sea of complex and Government-backed support organisations’.
An article about the report appeared in the Birmingham Post at the end of last week, detailing how firms looking for advice about innovation and product improvement have no less than 55 initiatives to choose from, and 29 separate delivery bodies – a minefield if ever there was one.
The study reportedly criticises the public sector for focusing in on science and technology to the detriment of other industries and for launching so many support services with overlapping remits.
The Birmingham Post quotes the report:
“It is probably not necessary to have six separate organisations offering access to the university base. Why, for example, do there need to be two university-managed business portals – the West Midlands Technology Network and Contact KE?”
The document goes on to state that the best way to support the city as a whole is to make it a more attractive place to do business. The Centre for Cities suggests that transport links need improving, but there’s no doubt that cuts in business rates would assist smaller and start-up businesses, whilst providing an incentive for outside companies to relocate to Birmingham.
The research manager of the think-tank responsible for the study adds that “supporting innovation in Britain’s cities isn’t about gimmicky policy or niche business schemes”.
It’s ludicrous that the public sector has swamped the market place with bodies and projects dedicated to ‘assisting’ business, as what they’ve actually created is an overwhelming labyrinth that businesses have to expend a considerable amount of time and energy negotiating.
Worse still, the public sector bodies involved have ignorantly wasted public cash by playing tug-of-war with these significant areas of crossover. This bizarre situation means that taxpayers are not only paying for the same job to be done simultaneously by at least two different delivery agencies, but they’re also presumably funding some level of competition between them.
Jerry Blackett of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry acknowledges the problem but mistakenly goes on to suggest that the disaster-prone Business Link West Midlands quango could pull its socks up sufficiently to convert to a ‘one-stop shop’.
Whatever problems exist with the tidal wave of schemes, plans, projects and agencies that have submerged Birmingham and created confusion, to advocate that all cash and queries should be channelled in the direction of a wobbly organisation that recently saw 150 job axed and even had to seek advice on structure and strategy itself, really is misguided.
Using taxpayers’ money the public sector has not created a network but birthed an indeterminable warren of business support. It is of the utmost importance to taxpayers, business and business as taxpayers that all surplus schemes are systematically rooted out and disposed with, not to be replaced by a fresh gimmick, but left out in order to give the public the value for money they deserve.