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SQW Limited

  1. 1. MAPPING BUSINESS SUPPORT IN OBJECTIVE 2 AREAS Report to the East of England Development Agency MAPPING BUSINESS SUPPORT IN OBJECTIVE 2 AREAS Report to the East of England Development Agency
  2. 2. SQW Limited Enterprise House Vision Park, Histon Cambridge CB4 9ZR Tel: 01223 209400 Fax: 01223 209401 Email: mailbox@sqw.co.uk JC1929 June 2001 TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER PAGE Executive Summary i 1 Introduction and overview 1 2 The Objective 2 core and transitional areas: survey findings 6 3 Area report: Rural areas 17 4 Area report: Luton 27 5 Area report: Great Yarmouth & Waveney 35 6. Area report: Southend-on-Sea 44
  3. 3. ANNEXES 1: Survey questionnaire 2: List of survey respondents 3 Example of workshop presentations 4: List of workshop participants
  4. 4. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Executive Summary Introduction In December 2000, the East of England Development Agency commissioned SQW Limited to carry out a mapping study of business support services in the Objective 2 areas of the east of England. The purpose of the study was to map the supply side of business support and identify any gaps, in order to help target effectively resources available for firms in the Objective 2 areas. The study was undertaken over five months to May 2001 and comprised a survey of 243 business support providers in the region, which was supplemented by consultations with Objective 2 facilitators and key business support providers, and five workshops each with a local provider audience. A review of draft versions of the Local Frameworks, the regional Single Programming Document and draft Small Business Service (SBS) business plans was also undertaken, from which comparisons with the survey data were drawn, forming part of a gap analysis of business support services in the Objective 2 areas. Analysis of needs The mapping and gap analysis was intended to present a picture of existing business support activity in the Objective 2 areas, relative to the areas’ specific needs. The initial needs analysis, drawn from the review of key local documents, highlighted several needs relevant to most or all of the Objective 2 areas: s support for mature and declining traditional industries, such as offshore oil/gas and ports, food processing and agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing, including diversification into new markets, for example ICT and electronics s support to start-ups to improve survival rates and develop entrepreneurial skills. This included the need for financial support mechanisms such as loan funds for SMEs and access to venture capital to finance funding gaps s environmental management systems s special provision for deprived and excluded communities and businesses, particularly in the rural economy and peripheral areas, which are not served well by local infrastructure networks s inward investment. Σ i
  5. 5. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas The examination of the existing documentation also highlighted the need for further demand-side research as, on the whole, little information was available about needs and information was particularly weak in terms of business support. The Objective 2 areas are particularly affected by problems of transport networks and declining industries, but other issues raised in the local documents were fairly general and could often be applied to the region as a whole. The survey: main findings Section 2 of the report discusses the overall findings from the survey and workshop discussions, and further detail about each of the Objective 2 areas can be found in sections 3 - 6. There were several important generic issues arising from the main findings: 1. Sectoral specialisms: when asked to identify business support products or services designed for specific sectors or needs groups, the majority of providers claimed that their services were not focused. There were some specialised services, such as retraining in Southend for an emerging telemarketing sector, and support for women entrepreneurs in Norfolk. However, the workshop discussions suggested that providers employed a generalist approach, but that where there was a demand for specialist services they would customise the provision, either internally or by subcontracting to external agencies or consultants. This may be helpful in some cases, but is probably not optimal, particularly if there are disincentives (such as pressures of self-financing) for providers to subcontract work or recommend external experts. 2. Cost of service to remote areas: survey respondents, particularly in the rural areas, claimed the cost burden of delivering support to remote areas is high. This was confirmed in the workshops as being a significant problem in some rural areas, where firms were suspicious of external providers and did not openly embrace formal business support networks. In these cases providers had to work more proactively to provide a personal service in order to engage firms in support activity. This has worked well in some areas, but is nonetheless very expensive to execute due to the time involved and the distances to be travelled in order to service remotely-based clients. In addition, the need for providers to have a local presence in these areas in order to engage the local business community was identified as a barrier, or at least a disincentive, to delivery. 3. Lack of entrepreneurship: across the board, this was identified through the survey and in the workshops as an historic problem facing the Objective 2 areas, and one that is perhaps endemic in the culture and in the dependence on traditional industries. The situation is exacerbated by the geographically peripheral location and the loss of qualified young people to other areas of the country, partly as a result of few career opportunities and also a lack – it was suggested - of local entrepreneurial role models. Although this falls in part outside the scope of ‘business support’ and is more relevant to the educational sphere, the need for stimulating and enhancing an Σ ii
  6. 6. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas entrepreneurial culture was strongly emphasised in all the workshops. Specifically, there exist clear gaps in initiatives designed to retain graduates and young people and in management and entrepreneurial skills training. The promotion and marketing of entrepreneurial activity in the area through the media could also help foster more positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship. 4. Partnerships and networks: when asked to make assessments about the supply of business support in their area compared to elsewhere in the east of England, many respondents demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the ‘players’ and services in the market and activity in other parts of the Region (an example of this is that the new Techlink initiative was not once referred to in the survey or workshops). Whilst it was suggested that providers are likely to be knowledgeable about the specific sectors in which they operate, they are less likely to be familiar with all aspects of business support. Nonetheless, the high level of respondents apparently unable to comment on provision suggests the networks and partnerships may be fragmented, which would prevent optimal dissemination of information, perhaps exclude potential partners from delivering services, and restrict the pool of providers to which businesses could be signposted for specialist support. 5. Dealing with strategic issues: The existence of gaps and overlaps, revealed in the survey and supported in the workshops, indicates that provision and allocation of resources targeted to business support is not optimal. This could be a symptom of strong competition and weak partnership and collaboration between local organisations, preventing broader strategic issues from being addressed. There was some feeling in the workshops that stronger leadership at a local and/or regional level could be useful in providing a guiding framework for further discussion and collaboration. The relatively sparse representation of business support issues in the Local Frameworks is also central to this, and needs to be addressed by the Objective 2 partnerships. The apparent concentration on infrastructure projects does not address the real issues surrounding business support needs. A diagnosis of business support needs from a demand-side perspective would enhance detailed understanding of the needs and gaps experienced by businesses, and their current level of satisfaction with the business support provision. Σ iii
  7. 7. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 1.Introduction and overview Context 1.1This document is the report for a study to map business support in Objective 2 areas in the East of England. SQW Limited were commissioned by EEDA to carry out the study, the results of which are intended to enhance the understanding of the provision of business support available to firms located within the nine areas in the East of England1 designated for assistance through the 2000-2006 Objective 2 Programme. 1.2As noted in the brief for the project, SQW was responsible for an extensive review of business support throughout the region in 2000, which included a survey of 1,000 firms together with interviews and workshops with key business support providers in the whole of the East of England. The brief for this current assignment was exclusively on Objective 2 Core and Transitional areas in the East of England, with the principal emphasis on mapping the supply side (i.e. understanding what support providers are providing to firms in the Objective 2 areas, and identifying gaps in provision) rather than investigating the use of support amongst businesses. The findings are intended to help effectively target resources available for the Objective 2 areas. Methodology 1.3The main vehicle for carrying out the study was an e-mail survey of suppliers that deliver services into Objective 2 areas. The draft survey findings were then presented in five local workshops delivered in locations convenient to one or more of the Objective 2 areas, in order that the output could be tested and refined, and additional input gathered. The report presents the combined results of the survey and workshop outputs. Initial research 1.4At the start of the study, a number of documents were made available to SQW. These included the Local Frameworks for Objective 2 areas (various drafts) and the Small Business Service (SBS) draft business plans, plus the East of England Objective 2 Single Programming Document (final draft). These documents all contained, to varying degrees, intelligence about existing and planned business support, either specifically targeted at the Objective 2 areas, or more broadly in the East of England. SQW reviewed the documents and extracted information, as far as it existed, about needs of the Objective 2 areas, and gaps in current provision, as a basis for designing the survey. 1 The Objective 2 Core and Transitional areas include: Breckland, Great Yarmouth, Waveney, Southend-on-Sea, Luton, North Norfolk Coast, Fenland (transitional), Rural East Suffolk (transitional), and Central Rural Norfolk (transitional). Σ 1
  8. 8. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 1.5It should be noted that the timing of the project was such that it coincided with changes in institutional responsibility for provision of business support in some regions, which complicated the process of mapping current business support provision. The e-mail survey 1.6The project started with no recognised list of business support providers delivering into Objective 2 areas. The initial task for SQW was therefore to compile a mailing list. A number of sources were drawn upon to develop a list, including: ■ existing lists from SQW’s Review of Business Support ■ EEDA ■ Objective 2 Facilitators ■ Business Links and local authorities. 1.7The list was then supplemented by information from the County Web Directory (www.countyweb.co.uk), which yielded contacts mainly for professionals, education institutions and training organisations. The list was built up to over 850 organisations, which was then de-duplicated and some selection made to reduce the large number of professional organisations. E-mail addresses and named contacts then had to be obtained for a significant proportion of the organisations on the list. 1.8In parallel, a questionnaire was designed, piloted and reviewed by EEDA. A copy of the questionnaire is contained in Annex 1. 1.9Following de-duplication and cleaning of the draft database, a total of 243 questionnaires were sent out and 89 responses received (55 completed questionnaires, 6 qualitative responses, and 28 refusals due to lack of time or no contact with Objective 2 areas). In addition, over 30 telephone discussions were held, some of which provided qualitative input into the study. During these discussions, in some cases requests were made for access to evaluations of individual initiatives in order to include some demand-side feedback about the business support provision. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, there was little success in accessing documentation. Σ 2
  9. 9. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Figure 1.1: the e-mail survey - summary statistics SUMMARY STATISTICS Questionnaires sent: 243 Of which: questionnaires sent to ‘core’ providers 150 (excluding ‘professionals’ and ‘other’ categories): Total responses received: 89 Of which: completed questionnaires returned 55 qualitative responses (letter or telephone discussion) 6 refusals due to lack of time or inappropriate 28 Responses as a percentage of total sent: 37% Responses as a percentage of total sent (excluding professionals etc.) 59% 1.10The majority of responses were from core2 business support organisations, educational institutions and local government, i.e. the main providers of public sector business support. A list of survey respondents is contained in Annex 2. Since there are no established lists or directories of business support providers working in Objective 2 areas, we started off the survey with no accurate idea of the scale of the provider population. Indeed, many of the providers are not actually located in an Objective 2 area, and are active across several areas. We were confident that the survey mailing list contained the majority of key providers, and this was confirmed in the workshops, which also augmented the list by signposting us to a few additional providers who were subsequently contacted. 1.11Of the estimated total provider population across all the Objective 2 areas, the survey coverage was approximately as follows: Figure 1.2: survey coverage CATEGORY OF ORGANISATION NUMBER OF QUESTIONNAIRES NUMBER OF RESPONSES RECEIVED SENT (including questionnaires, plus qualitative and negative responses) Core business support 36 25 (69%) Local government 19 15 (79%) Education 17 11 (65%) Trade/sectoral 23 8 (35%) Training 55 10 (18%) Professional 62 10 (16%) Other 31 10 (32%) Total 243 89 (37%) 1.12For the purpose of the analysis, the nine Objective 2 areas have been grouped. The segmentation was informed by the organisation of the five workshops, and this approach was agreed since it was 2 Public sector organisations which exist primarily to provide support services to business (including Business Link, Enterprise Agencies, Chambers of Commerce and Industry, etc.) Σ 3
  10. 10. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas considered that response numbers would be more meaningful when aggregated. For all the providers contacted for the survey, we can only guess at which is their key focus area. For the 55 completed questionnaires received, we were able to categorise them according to their stated primary delivery focus. The following table presents the grouped Objective 2 areas, together with the questionnaires sent and responses received for each aggregated area. Figure 1.3: grouped areas – response details LUTON SOUTHEND RURAL YARMOUTH & OTHER** TOTAL OBJECTIVE 2 WAVENEY Questionnaires sent (presumed category) 33 43 57 64 46 243 Responses received* 15 10 29 17 19 89 Responses as a percent 45% 23% 51% 27% 41% 37% of total sent * grouped according to the Objective 2 area in which the provider was most active ** ‘Other’ includes national or regional providers which cannot be categorised to one of the groupings 1.13The 55 completed questionnaires received provide the data for the survey analysis, augmented by the qualitative information received in some responses and the input, subsequently, from the workshop participants (some of whom also submitted completed questionnaires). The workshops 1.14Five workshops were run, in March 2001, to present the emerging findings from the survey. The workshop locations were selected to accommodate one or more Objective 2 areas, and this grouping dictated the presentation of the data in this report. Invitations to the workshop were issued by EEDA. The figure below presents details on each of the workshops. Figure 1.4: workshop details DATE LOCATION OBJECTIVE 2 AREAS NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS 20 March Dereham Breckland 5 North Norfolk Coast Central Rural Norfolk 21 March Luton Luton 10 22 March Lowestoft Great Yarmouth 18 Waveney Rural East Suffolk 29 March Outwell Fenland 12 30 March Southend-on-Sea Southend-on-Sea 12 Σ 4
  11. 11. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 1.15The workshop presentation for the Lowestoft workshop is contained in Annex 3 as an example of the presentation format, and a list of the workshop participants is presented in Annex 4. 1.16The remainder of this document is divided into five further sections. Section two presents an overview of the findings from the aggregate data for all nine Objective 2 areas. Sections three, four, five and six each contain an area report, respectively for the ‘rural areas, including Fenland’, ‘Luton’, ‘Great Yarmouth & Waveney’, and ‘Southend-on-Sea’. The report concludes with a series of annexes containing relevant supporting material. 1.17Finally, SQW would like to acknowledge the help received from a number of individuals and organisations in the process of the project. In particular we would like to thank Kevin Horne for making available two reports: ‘Business Support in Norfolk – A Mapping Exercise’, and ‘An evaluation of the BEST Start Programme’. Σ 5
  12. 12. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 2.The Objective 2 areas: survey findings Supply of business support 2.1This section presents an overview based on the aggregate data for all nine Objective 2 areas, derived from the 55 completed questionnaires received from the e-mail survey. The nine areas have been reduced to four groupings, and the data organised on that basis for the area reports which follow. Here, the total data are presented, together with generic observations and issues which have emanated from both the survey and the subsequent workshops. Scale of support 2.2The survey respondents report that they have assisted a total of 55,000 businesses over the last year, and have generated over £34 million of revenue through the delivery of business support. 2.3Two observations need to be made here. First, that the activity reported by the respondents will have extended, in practically all cases, beyond the Objective 2 boundaries, and the volume and value of support delivered into Objective 2 areas will only be a proportion of the total reported activity. Second, the total stock of businesses in the Objective 2 areas is around 28,000 3, which suggests that the figure of 55,000 businesses assisted could actually mean 55,000 interventions delivered, many of the businesses receiving multiple inputs of support. And these will be for firms located throughout most of the East of England since few of the respondents operate exclusively in Objective 2 areas. There were also gaps in the data provided on this subject, where – not untypically – respondents were cautious about revealing information relating to finance. Mapping business support 2.4The questionnaire contained three matrices on which respondents were asked to indicate their activity, using three different categories: ■ the stage of business development for which the support was designed ■ support for specific sectors 3 Source: Regional Trends, No. 35, 2000 edition (data for 1998) Σ 6
  13. 13. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas ■ Support for particular segments of the business population that might have specific needs. 2.5The ‘maps’ in this and the following sections are presented showing actual numbers of responses, together with shading to indicate the concentrations of, and gaps in provision, and to highlight any patterns which exist. The numbers can be compared across all four groups; but the shading for the maps in the four area reports reflects the percentage of the total responses for the particular ‘group’ which the number represents. The depth of shading therefore varies between the different area reports, and is for illustrative, but not comparative, purposes. 2.6It should also be noted that this overview presents the data from all 55 respondents, which includes some that do not fit into any of the four area groupings because although they are working in one or more Objective 2 areas, they have a national or regional focus, rather than primarily a local focus, and therefore could not be categorised according to a specific Objective 2 area. Map 2.1: Objective 2 Core and Transitional Areas: support by stage of development STAGE OF PRE-START START-UP EARLY HIGH GROWTH MAINSTREAM MATURE/ DEVELOPMENT DEVELOPMENT DECLINING TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 15 17 18 19 21 17 Business Planning 22 21 21 20 20 19 Finance 19 18 22 17 19 14 Skills/HR 15 16 19 16 16 15 Production/operations 9 11 13 12 12 11 ICT 14 14 16 12 14 13 Other technology 12 12 11 10 12 9 Marketing 17 18 20 14 15 13 Property/location 14 15 16 14 12 10 Legislation 17 17 17 13 16 11 Environmental issues 13 14 13 11 13 13 Σ 7
  14. 14. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 2.7Across all four groups of areas, a fairly consistent pattern of supply has been reported with respect to support for businesses at different stages of development. As might be expected, the main concentration is in provision of core management skills such as business planning, finance, HR and marketing. However, all ‘types of support’ are covered, although because this study has looked solely at the supply-side, it is not possible to tell whether the volume of supply is sufficient to meet demand. 2.8There is also a relatively even pattern of delivery to firms at different stages of development, with a comparatively strong showing for ‘mainstream’ firms, and those which are categorised as ‘mature’ or ‘declining’, as well as the provision for start-up and early stage development, which tends to be standard provision through Enterprise Agencies and Business Link. The targeting of declining businesses is presumably a response to the problems faced by several of the Objective 2 areas where the main industries are traditional and in decline. Map 2.2: Objective 2 Core and Transitional Areas: sectoral focus of support SECTORAL FOCUS NONE FAST GROWTH DECLINING OTHER SECTORS SECTORS SECTORS TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 20 4 5 4 Business Planning 27 4 4 3 Finance 24 3 1 1 Skills/HR 21 3 1 2 Production/operations 16 2 1 2 ICT 20 2 2 1 Other technology 15 2 1 1 Marketing 21 3 1 2 Property/location 18 3 0 0 Legislation 19 2 2 0 Environmental issues 17 1 1 0 2.9This map illustrates the sectoral-based activity, and raises some questions about the support which is being delivered in the Objective 2 areas. The map implies that the great majority of providers do not make available any sectorally-specific support. This issue was explored in further depth in the Σ 8
  15. 15. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas workshops, to identify whether in fact there were programmes and support designed specifically for a particular sector which the survey had failed to pick up. 2.10The workshops did indeed reveal some sector-specific activity, and some providers that work exclusively with a particular sector (for example, the East of England Tourist Board, and EEEGR), but the strong message was that the map is a fairly accurate picture and most providers will work with any type of business, and tailor their support according to the specific needs of that business. They therefore do not classify the support as sector-specific, even though they may be customising it to the needs of, for example, a tourism or an engineering firm. 2.11This explains the strong concentration of respondents which claim to have no sectoral focus. However, it also suggests that really specialised help, from sector experts, is perhaps not being provided to businesses when they need it, and they are being offered help by providers who have generic, rather than sector-specific skills and knowledge. Map 2.3: Objective 2 Core and Transitional areas: support for specific needs SPECIFIC NEED NO SPECIFIC DISABLED YOUNG ETHNIC WOMEN OTHER FOCUS TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 26 2 3 2 3 0 Business Planning 27 4 8 5 5 0 Finance 24 4 4 4 4 0 Skills/HR 21 4 4 4 4 0 Production/operations 20 2 2 2 2 0 ICT 25 3 3 4 3 0 Other technology 20 2 2 2 2 Marketing 26 4 4 3 3 Property/location 17 2 2 2 2 Legislation 21 3 3 2 2 Environmental issues 17 1 1 1 1 Σ 9
  16. 16. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 2.12The support for groups which may have specific needs is again rather sparse in most cases, the exception being that for young people, where provision of business planning support is particularly strong, and other provision slightly outweighs that for the other groups. This can probably be explained in part by the activities of the Prince’s Trust. 2.13The main group which was highlighted in the workshops as having needs which it is believed are not being met is the ethnic businesses. In several Objective 2 areas the providers are aware that there are businesses which are not accessing mainstream support, for a variety of reasons, and although in some cases they are drawing on help from other sources (their own community for example), it was felt that this provision could and should be improved. Steps are being taken in some areas to address this, with research either being carried out or planned to be commissioned to understand better both the type of support which would be welcomed, and how to set up effective communication which will lead to the support being accessed. 2.14The other groups – women, the disabled and young people – were not highlighted consistently in any of the workshops as having unmet needs, and some activity, particularly with farmers’ wives in the rural areas, is already underway to help them consider developing additional/alternative sources of income and diversification. Range and quality of providers 2.15We sought opinions as to how the range of provision delivered into Objective 2 areas compared to the East of England in general, and also whether the quality was similar, better or poorer. Figure 2.1: the range and quality of providers – Objective 2 core and transitional areas RANGE TOTAL SAMPLE QUALITY TOTAL SAMPLE Similar 20 Similar 19 Fewer 9 Better 3 More 3 Poorer 8 Lack knowledge 19 Lack Knowledge 21 Missing 4 Missing 4 Total 55 Total 55 2.16A number of points need to be raised in relation to these data. First, many participants in the workshops made the valid point that an objective picture could only be obtained through eliciting views from the demand-side, i.e. the ‘customers’ for the support, and that providers themselves are unlikely to be negative. Second, many providers noted that they found it difficult to offer any assessment outside the boundaries in which they work, so, for example, those providing start-up support may feel unable to comment about the range and quality of specialist sector-specific marketing provision. That said, it could be argued that providers should have a broad awareness of Σ 10
  17. 17. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas activity within the ‘industry’, since one of their key roles will be to ensure that businesses receive appropriate support, and that does not always, or indeed often, come from just one provider. Partnerships and strong linkages, between different types of providers, are key to an effective support network, and the number of respondents that indicated they lacked the knowledge to respond to this question is of some concern. 2.17Overall, just over a third of survey respondents believe the range of provision to be similar to that elsewhere in the East of England, and provided that provision is acceptable, then there should be no expectation that provision for Objective 2 areas should exceed it. Of more concern is the fact that 16% believe there to be a smaller range of provision available, and only 5% suggest that the range in Objective 2 areas exceeds that elsewhere. It could be that Objective 2 areas have a narrower range of needs than the rest of the East of England, but point was not corroborated in the workshops. 2.18The responses were very similar with respect to quality of support, with around a third, again, believing the quality of provision to be similar to elsewhere in the East of England, 14% suggesting it is poorer, and only 5% thinking it is better. In both cases, over a third lacked knowledge to comment. 2.19We looked at the data to see whether it was possible to identify any geographic patterns to these responses. No particular Objective 2 area stood out where respondents believe the quality and range to be similar, but the majority of those respondents who believe there to be either a smaller range of provision of a poorer quality of provision were working in the rural Objective 2 areas. This matches the feedback received from both the survey and the workshops about problems accessing remotely located businesses (either because of the cost of travelling to them, and/or the businesses’ reluctance to travel to access support) and difficulties of providing support into remote locations, which is what the local businesses want. Difficulties and incentives 2.20Half the respondents reported no difficulties in servicing businesses located in the Objective 2 areas; but just under half apparently do experience difficulties, and the majority of those are the providers dealing with the rural areas. The main barriers to operating in the Objective 2 areas include: Σ 11
  18. 18. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas ■ issues related to remote location, in particular: ⇒ suppliers facing problems of access to remote areas, and the additional cost implicit for this work ⇒ reluctance of remotely-located businesses to travel to the service delivery point ⇒ difficulties engaging businesses without a dedicated local presence ■ poor take-up of services ■ difficulties of recruiting and retaining appropriate staff to deliver support services, and ■ a shortage of suitable development land which, in some cases, is preventing suitable incubator and small business premises being provided. 2.21Predictably, the most commonly cited incentive which would help providers deliver more support services in Objective 2 areas was funding. However, providers did not just suggest more funding would help, but made some constructive proposals for the nature of the funding structures which would enhance their ability to deliver services. In particular, the existing, and additional, funding could be: ■ more flexible, to enable local needs to be addressed ■ more flexible, to enable innovative and novel forms of support to be developed ■ committed over a longer term, to enable the provision of commitment to clients, and the delivery of in-depth sustained support, rather than ‘quick hits’ ■ less reliant on matched funding, which is increasingly difficult to access, particularly from the private sector ■ part of a strategy which focused less on ‘picking winners’ and more on businesses struggling to survive, which is the perceived greater need in some of the Objective 2 areas Σ 12
  19. 19. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 2.22And additional funding was required to: ■ enable expansion of services to meet demand (although this conflicted with the problems identified because take-up of services is poor) ■ enable increased depth of service (for example, the provision of a face-to-face intervention where at the moment support is provided by telephone). 2.23The other key issue which would ease the problems faced in working in these areas is the development of strengthened partnerships. Although in some areas, it was suggested that partnerships are not a problem, an opposing view was presented by some workshop participants, and there does seem to be a case for improved cooperation and coordination of services. 2.24Some of these points are elaborated, and additional area-specific detail is provided in the area reports which follow. Overlaps and gaps 2.25Approximately half those surveyed believe that overlaps in provision of business support do exist, the majority of which work in the rural areas and Southend. Nearly as many, however, believe there are no overlaps, but here there is less of a geographical pattern. Varying opinions were expressed as to whether the existence of overlaps in service provision is a problem or a benefit. In general, the view is that there are bound to be overlaps, and that the market can stand, and will likely benefit by, more than one provider working in a similar field, not least because it is likely to reduce the danger of poor quality and complacency. In addition, given the relatively low penetration of the business population generally (not just in Objective 2 areas) achieved by service providers, there is a large tranche of the business population which is yet to be tapped and the market is clearly not yet saturated with providers of business support. 2.26The overlaps were explained primarily by: ■ the fact that provision is often funding driven. Two main points were raised here: ⇒ first, the diagnostic processes used to identify needs and inform the use of funding are often not optimal Σ 13
  20. 20. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas ⇒ second, the aims of different sources of funding sometimes overlap, and there is often little coordination of the different funding streams, which results in duplication – enhanced communication and partnership might help to achieve greater coherence here ■ the similar service provided by professional firms and banks, which have not differentiated themselves from their local competitors ■ overlaps between training organisations and private-sector providers, but whilst in these cases there are apparent overlaps, the detail of the provision tends to differ (for example, a training programme can cover the same subject matter, but a wide range of flexibility be offered in the structure of the training – ranging from intensive short courses to longer-term part-time developmental courses; or from formal classroom based training to participative, experiential and applied approaches). 2.27Gaps are more critical, and obviously an optimal use of funding to avoid unnecessary overlaps is desirable, and may also free up some funding to address the gaps faced by the Objective 2 areas. Close to half the survey respondents felt there are gaps in provision, with only a few believing no gaps exist. Again, almost half were unable to express a view, which suggests a less than desirable understanding of the needs of the supply-side, or of the business support being supplied outside the respondents’ own specific field. 2.28The nature of the gaps varied between the different areas, and the specific local gaps are presented in each of the area reports. Some general themes can, however be identified which are common to most, if not all, the Objective 2 areas. Level of enterprise 2.29The first theme is the lack of entrepreneurial culture which exists in the Objective 2 areas, and the surrounds. Most of the workshops, as well as some of the consultations we carried out, picked up this theme as a fundamental problem faced in these areas, caused by an historical dependence culture on traditional industries; loss of qualified young people due to the lack of educational infrastructure at further and higher levels, the geographically peripheral location (which has resulted in a fragile business infrastructure with relatively few career opportunities), few entrepreneurial role models, and the ‘call of the big city’. This issue is something which cannot be tackled merely by the business support network, but the one noticeable absence of provision was in the area of retention. There does not appear to be much activity designed to retain young people, graduates and skilled management in the area. There are examples of successful activity in other parts of the country which may be interesting models for the Objective 2 areas (for example, in the North East of England and Wales, which have both been active in this area). Σ 14
  21. 21. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Rural gaps 2.30A host of issues relate to businesses located in rural and remote areas, which have already been alluded to earlier in this section. To reiterate, there appear to be gaps in the provision of advice and training for remotely-based businesses, due to problems of access and cost, and also of locally delivered support, and the local presence of providers. Management skills 2.31Whilst the maps indicate considerable activity in at least the main management skill areas, it is not clear how targeted this is to specific sub-groups (e.g. basic or advanced provision; provision for middle and senior managers and directors; differentiated provision for key managers and directors at different stages of a business’s development, etc.). The feedback from both the survey and the workshops suggest that the range of provision in this field, at different levels of sophistication and for different types of businesses could be enhanced, although by and large little clear direction was provided as to exactly what is needed, apart from lists of basic training in financial, accounting and IT skills. In one case there was an exception, where one of the respondents/workshop participants had clearly identified the need for ‘strategic IT’ support, and the same organisation had also already developed a programme for Chief Executives in response to the gap they had identified. Finance 2.32Venture capital was mentioned several times as required to address a gap, and steps are being taken in various areas to address this. The question was also raised as to how interesting this form of support in fact is for businesses, and especially SMEs, who tend to be fiercely independent and reluctant to give up any control over their business. A need for funding was also identified to fill the gap between the ceiling which banks are willing to lend, and the bottom level of the venture capital market (which tends to be quite high due to the associated administrative and monitoring costs). Grants were also identified as a gap, but this was not widespread. The one type of grant which would be appreciated is grant aid for ‘medium-sized’ businesses with over thirty employees. Unfortunately, no further information was provided as to why this is currently a problem, and it may merit more investigation to determine the true nature of the gap. Innovation and e-commerce 2.33New technologies and ways of doing business were identified as important for the region, and some feeling expressed that more could be done in these areas. In particular, there is apparently a lack of available land, or land with appropriate planning permission to develop incubator units, and small business premises which would help Objective 2 areas retain growth businesses as they develop and expand. Σ 15
  22. 22. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 2.34A second aspect related to this is the proximity of Cambridge to some of the Objective 2 areas, and in particular the Fens, and the possibility therefore of attracting high-tech firms out of Cambridge into Objective 2 areas due to the lower costs of operation. However, to do this, it will be necessary to have a support infrastructure appropriate to their needs, and this is not currently in place. 2.35Finally, due to the peripheral location of many of the Objective 2 areas, the existing businesses could benefit from the application and utilisation of e-commerce business practices. Support in this field, as with the more sophisticated IT techniques and applications, could be enhanced for existing businesses. Due to the peripherality of the areas, the view was also widely expressed that they are ideal locations to encourage the establishment of e-businesses which do not rely on a particular geographic location. 2.36The above are the main generic gaps which were identified. Other gaps, specific to one or more of the Objective 2 areas, together with some information about what is planned to address these gaps, are presented in the area reports which follow. Σ 16
  23. 23. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 3.Area report: Rural areas4 Supply of business support 3.1For the purposes of the survey analysis, a number of Objective 2 and transitional areas, with broadly similar rural characteristics, were grouped together since individually they would not have yielded sufficient responses and therefore material to provide useful insight or commentary. The Fenland area, rural east Suffolk, Breckland District, Central rural Norfolk and the north Norfolk coast Objective 2 area are all therefore included in this section of the report. 3.2Of 81 organisations contacted for the survey that are likely to be active in the rural Objective 2 areas and the Fens, twenty responded which have a focus primarily in one of the above Objective 2 areas, and a further 12 are active in one of the rural areas although it is not their primary focus. This breaks down as follows: Figure 3.1: breakdown of responses for the Rural areas Objective 2 Core or Transitional Area Number of responses Breckland 7 North Norfolk 1 The Fens 6 Central Rural Norfolk 0 Rural East Suffolk 5 General rural focus 1 Total: 20 Responses from organisations which provide some services to one or more Objective 2 Rural Area, but where it is not their primary focus: 12 3.3The data provided on the scale of delivery was sporadic from the respondents for the rural areas, with some information provided on the numbers of businesses supported and the number of courses/sessions delivered, but large gaps because some respondents did not provide any information. The best information this survey can therefore provide is that respondents supported 700 firms in the past year, and delivered over 1,000 training and counselling/advisory sessions. We are inclined to believe that the scale of activity is considerably greater than that presented here, but cannot confirm this. 4 The Rural Areas grouping includes: the Fenland area, Rural East Suffolk, Breckland District, Central Rural Norfolk and the North Norfolk Coast Σ 17
  24. 24. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Map 3.1: Rural Areas: support by Stage of Development STAGE OF PRE-START START-UP EARLY HIGH GROWTH MAINSTREAM MATURE/DECLI DEVELOPMENT DEVELOPMENT NING TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 7 8 9 9 10 7 Business Planning 7 8 9 9 9 7 Finance 5 6 8 7 8 5 Skills/HR 4 5 7 6 6 5 Production/operations 1 2 4 4 5 3 ICT 2 3 4 3 5 3 Other technology 1 2 3 4 5 2 Marketing 4 5 8 6 8 5 Property/location 3 3 5 5 5 3 Legislation 4 5 7 6 9 6 Environmental issues 4 4 5 4 6 6 3.4The pattern of support shows a similar concentration of support across most stages of development, with possibly slightly less focus on pre-start and mature/declining firms, and a slight emphasis on those firms defined as ‘mainstream’. The main functional management skill areas are served well (general management, business planning finance, skills/HR and marketing), which reflects the normal pattern exhibited elsewhere in this study. 3.5The workshops provided some additional information on specific services available. In Thetford, a large legal practice has been instrumental in the development of a website providing an online resource for small businesses (advice and information on a broad range of legal matters). This practice also provides consultancy to assist and develop small businesses. The Fenland area is benefiting from a new programme just introduced across the region entitled ‘Super Start’ (run by St John’s Innovation Centre and included in the mapping), and IT support designed specifically for delivery in rural areas (Fenland Telematics). Finally, a Norfolk-based business network, NR Squared, has been set up (with support from EEDA), and provides discussion groups, guest speakers and a programme of workshops to support ‘goal-focused’ businesses. Σ 18
  25. 25. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Map 3.2: Rural Areas: sectoral focus of support SECTORAL FOCUS NONE FAST GROWTH DECLINING OTHER SECTORS TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 9 2 3 1 Business Planning 11 1 2 1 support for alternative uses of derelict land Finance 8 1 1 0 Skills/HR 8 0 0 0 Production/operations 5 0 0 0 ICT 7 0 0 0 Other technology 4 1 0 0 Marketing 8 1 0 0 Property/location 7 1 0 0 Legislation 9 0 1 0 Environmental issues 7 0 0 0 3.6Little activity has been registered with either ‘fast growth’ or ‘declining’ sectors, although some small amount of general management and business planning aimed at businesses in declining sectors was noted. However, the information provided about specific initiatives being run by respondents revealed programmes aimed specifically at innovative firms (general business support mentoring), and initiatives designed to support firms operating in the food industry (cluster development), but which has apparently had little impact over five years. 3.7Work is also being carried out with ‘aspirational businesses’ (St Johns Innovation Centre in Cambridge), where specialist expertise is applied to identify the businesses and direct them to appropriate sources of support. Σ 19
  26. 26. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Map 3.3: Rural Areas: support for specific needs SPECIFIC NEEDS NO SPECIFIC DISABLED YOUNG ETHNIC WOMEN OTHER FOCUS TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 12 1 1 0 1 Business Planning 11 1 2 0 1 Finance 10 1 1 0 0 Skills/HR 10 1 1 0 0 Production/operations 7 0 0 0 0 ICT 10 0 0 0 0 Other technology 7 0 0 0 0 Marketing 11 1 1 0 0 Property/location 7 0 0 0 0 Legislation 10 1 1 0 0 Environmental issues 8 0 0 0 0 3.8Again, little activity specifically designed for a particular group with shared needs is in evidence. Some support has been logged in the main functional areas for ‘disabled’ and ‘young’ entrepreneurs/companies, and one provider delivers targeted support for ‘women’. Discussions in the workshops, both in Dereham (Rural Areas) and Outwell (the Fens) did not reveal many gaps in these data, and feedback appears to confirm that the support is made available to firms across the board, on a generic basis, and any specialist targeting of support is done in response to the specific needs of the client. This indicates that providers are adopting a flexible approach, but on the other hand it also suggests that where real specialist help is needed, which requires an ‘expert’ in the field to deliver it, those needs of businesses are possibly not being satisfied. Σ 20
  27. 27. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas The range and quality of providers 3.9The assessment of the range and quality of business support in the rural areas is less positive than in other parts of the region. Nearly a third of the providers with a principal focus in the rural areas felt that the quality was poorer, and a comparable proportion believe it to be similar. The range of support was assessed slightly more positively, with one respondent even describing the range as wider than elsewhere in the region. Figure 3.2: the range and quality of providers – Rural areas RANGE TOTAL SAMPLE RURAL QUALITY TOTAL SAMPLE RURAL OBJECTIVE 2 OBJECTIVE 2 Similar 20 7 Similar 19 6 Fewer 9 4 Better 3 0 More 3 1 Poorer 8 6 Lack 19 7 Lack 21 7 knowledg Knowledge e Missing 4 1 Missing 4 1 Total 55 20 Total 55 20 3.10The response from the two relevant workshops confirms the above picture. There was a strong view that anywhere located outside the main urban areas suffer in terms of provision. A number of factors contribute to this: ■ it is more expensive to provide a service to businesses in rural areas, both in terms of marketing and capturing the ‘business’ in the first place, and then the travel time is such that it becomes too expensive for providers to deliver on an acceptable basis. Businesses either cannot afford to pay the – higher – costs of accessing provision in rural areas; or the subsidy is insufficient to support provision ■ difficulties in gaining access to businesses in rural areas also means that the limited resources of providers (for example, Business Link PBAs) are often deployed more effectively (in terms of time used) in relatively urban areas. Private provision, however, is considered to be reasonable in the market towns, which have solicitors, accountants etc. located locally. Banks, although in some cases moving out of small towns, have business advisors which are in some cases willing to travel (e.g. HSBC in Thetford) ■ small towns and villages often do not have appropriate venues to run training courses locally – the setting up of the BEST Agency should improve this situation ■ there is a perceived (or actual?) resistance from firms to taking up support unless it is seen to be delivered locally and by locally-based providers. This message was repeated several times, and several providers believe it is just not possible to deliver Σ 21
  28. 28. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas effectively, or gather a critical mass of clients to make it cost-effective to deliver unless they have established a local office. This is happening in some cases (for example, in Thetford where a Chamber has been set up, and the BEST agency office is being established. 3.11These issues are revisited in the next section. Difficulties and incentives Access 3.12As already discussed, a key problem with providing support in rural areas is difficulty of access. Businesses are very dispersed, which makes it time-consuming to provide support on a face-to-face basis compared with those firms located in urban areas; and second, awareness of services is low, probably because the providers have a low profile compared to that they can maintain in urban areas, and group activities such as training are less likely to be located near to these dispersed businesses. 3.13The workshop mirrored the view that barriers to providing support in rural areas exist and it is likely that there are considerable proportions of the rural business population which are not accessing optimal support, through lack of provision locally, or lack of engagement by the firm due to a low level of awareness or inability to pay for the services. Local presence 3.14Business support providers tend to be located in the larger urban areas. Without a dedicated presence in the rural areas, there is apparently a disinclination to engage in the business support network. A strong message was delivered, both via the survey and in the workshops, that there is a high level of distrust of providers which are not rooted in the very local environs of the businesses to which they are providing support. Funding 3.15As with the other Objective 2 areas, there was a call for additional funding to be made available; specifically to widen the range of services provided to meet local and specific needs; to build and retain relevant experienced counsellors to deliver services (retention is apparently a particular problem in rural areas); and longer term funding to build relationships with clients and deliver support on a more protracted basis. Σ 22
  29. 29. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Evidence of interest 3.16A further difficulty noted is the lack of demand for support from businesses in rural areas, although providers believe these businesses need help. Providers working in rural areas would be more willing and able to provide additional levels of service into Objective 2 areas if there was stronger evidence of interest or demand for services. It is not clear whether this is based on concrete evidence that there is a lack of demand (i.e. a demand-side survey), or whether it is a marketing issue. Where firms have been convinced of the benefits of support, providers have had a good response, and firms have apparently demonstrated a willingness to travel. The message here is that ‘recruiting’ businesses for support activity requires a proactive, specific and personal approach. Fenland 3.17The difficulties outlined by the providers working in the Fenland area seem particularly acute. As well as problems arising from access and remote location of businesses (one agency’s staff travel an average of 77 miles per day), there appears also to be a lack of awareness about available services, and take-up of services has been poor (particularly, again, where there has not been a local presence or proactive marketing campaign). The extent of penetration is low, so the same firms tend to participate in events and training, with the result that new ideas are not regularly injected. 3.18In the Fens, provision comes in some cases from the Cambridge area, and prices then have to be differentiated from those charged in Cambridge, due to the large number of smaller, farming-related businesses that simply cannot afford, or are unwilling to invest in support services. Gaps and overlaps 3.19Over half the respondents in the rural areas believe there are gaps in provision, but nearly half felt that their services overlapped with other organisations. Σ 23
  30. 30. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Figure 3.3 Pr o vid e r s ' As s e s s m e n t o f t h e O ve r la p a n d Gap s in Su p p o r t S e r vice s 60 50 % r es ponden ts 40 A ny O v er lap? 30 A ny G aps ? 20 10 0 Y es No Don't know A ns w e r 3.20Some services, particularly those delivered by the Enterprise Agency and the Business Link will be provided within agreed boundaries and should be unlikely to overlap. Nonetheless, there were overlaps still reported by these organisations (in particular support to start-ups) – as with funding- driven services elsewhere in the region, some duplication occurs due to competition for different funding streams for similar activities. ICT was an area which was particularly highlighted as having a number of providers offering similar provision. 3.21The responses also provide an indication that more coordination of services is required and perhaps a more coherent process between identifying needs and the provision of services, as it was suggested that there is currently an incentive for providers to deliver ‘popular’ services rather than those which are really needed. However, if services are popular it would suggest there is a need for them, so the conclusion perhaps should be that there is, in some cases, a duplication of services, but overall demand is not yet satisfied and the market can bear more than one provider delivering similar services. 3.22Whilst the above coordination of services was called for in order to avoid duplication and use resources effectively, the lack of a diagnostic process to identify needs which will inform the services to be delivered was also pinpointed as a reason for gaps in provision. 3.23The survey identified the following issues which need to be addressed and gaps in current provision: ■ the level of entrepreneurship is low in rural areas, and there is a need to address and build entrepreneurial attitudes early on – within the business community and also prior to entry, within the education system (a similar issue to that raised both in Yarmouth & Waveney and Southend). Coupled with this the need was raised for local entrepreneurial role models Σ 24
  31. 31. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas ■ venture capital and loans at an appropriate scale and cost for SMEs. A finance gap was identified between the ceiling that banks will lend, and the smallest amount available from the venture capital market. That said, the point was also made that venture capital has already been promoted, but there has been a low take up due to the businesses’ concern about losing control ■ the level of risk a lender is prepared to take varies between, for example, Cambridge and Fenland – the example was quoted of banks which have been good at servicing technology-based firms in Cambridge, but are poor at doing so in Fenland. However, the response did not make it clear whether they were comparing ‘like with like’; or whether this was a locally-determined policy or one embedded in the bank’s corporate ethos. Whatever the case, the point was made that SBS/Business Link services will play an important role in addressing gaps where the market is failing ■ basic skills and management training and generic advisory services for rural businesses are considered to be a gap, and the need was reiterated for more locally delivered general support services ■ there is a need, identified particularly in the Fens, for support to women, especially farmers’ wives, as they can no longer rely on farming for a sufficient income ■ the need to attract and support growth businesses to the rural areas, and in particular to the Fens, was suggested as a means to breaking the cycle of deprivation in the Fens. Provision of support to businesses with growth potential is weak at present. Linked to this is the fact that the Fens loses well qualified people through migration to other areas, and growth businesses may be a vehicle to retain these high quality resources ■ access for disabled workers was identified as a big issue in Objective 2 areas where firms do not have resources to fund appropriate measures ■ again, the need for a local presence, highlighted by the difficulties that some providers have experienced in serving the rural market from a distance, was identified as a gap which needs addressing. 3.24The workshops in Dereham and Outwell identified a few initiatives which are being introduced in response to the gaps identified: ■ the BEST Agency has just been established in Breckland and should address the need for a ‘local presence’ – it will support firms in Norfolk including part of the Fens ■ the new Cambridgeshire Business Service will have a remit which includes the Fenland area. Σ 25
  32. 32. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 3.25Finally, an analysis of gaps in Norfolk provision has recently been carried out by the Norfolk Enterprise Network, and was due to be released towards the end of February 2001 – this should provide enhanced information to suppliers of business support and help them to refine their provision to fit with the needs of the businesses located in the rural areas. Σ 26
  33. 33. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas 4.Area report: Luton Supply of business support 4.1Nine organisations in the survey stated that their main focus of delivery was the Luton area and have been categorised as ‘principal providers’; a further four respondents deliver some services into the area, but it is not their main focus. The nine respondents represent most of the core business support organisations in the area, but at least one is missing - having undertaken to submit a questionnaire, nothing has been received despite follow-up. 4.2The survey requested information on the scale and scope of the key services and programmes delivered. Nearly six hundred sessions, including training events, seminars and counselling and advisory sessions, have been delivered in the last year, and over 1,400 businesses and nearly 3,500 individuals/delegates from firms have been helped by the providers. It must be recognised, however, that many of these businesses and individuals may be ‘multiple users’, and therefore the actual numbers supported may be lower. 4.3The three maps illustrated below are based on the responses of the nine principal providers which responded. Commentary on each of them is provided following the map. Σ 27
  34. 34. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Map 4.1: Luton: support by Stage of Development STAGE OF PRE-START START-UP EARLY HIGH GROWTH MAINSTREAM MATURE/ DEVELOPMENT DEVELOPMENT DECLINING TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 4 4 4 4 4 4 Business Planning 5 5 4 3 3 3 Finance 5 5 6 4 4 3 Skills/HR 5 5 5 4 4 4 Production/operations 4 4 4 4 4 4 ICT 5 5 6 5 5 5 Other technology 4 4 4 4 4 4 Marketing 5 5 5 3 3 3 Property/location 4 4 4 3 3 3 Legislation 4 4 4 3 3 3 Environmental issues 4 4 4 4 4 4 4.4The pattern of Luton’s supply shows a relatively equal distribution of provision across the different stages of business development, with a slight concentration on pre-start, start-up and early stage development, but insufficient difference to identify discernable patterns other than a relative consistency across the different functional types of support, and across the stages of development. 4.5There is a slightly higher number of suppliers providing ICT support, across the board to businesses at all stages of development, which suggests there may be one or more specialist ICT providers in the area, although none of the respondents were specialists in this field. The other interpretation could be that the generalist support organisations are providing ICT support in response to demand in the area; indeed, the SBS draft business plan identified the need to address the ICT requirements of businesses, and the Local Framework document identified ICT as a key sector. Σ 28
  35. 35. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas Map 4.2: Luton: sectoral focus of support S ECTORAL F OCUS N ONE F AST GROWTH DECLINING O THER SECTORS SECTORS SECTORS TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 4 1 1 3 Manufacturing Construction (Best Practice) Business Planning 4 1 1 1 Manufacturing Finance 5 1 0 0 Sk ills/HR 3 1 0 1 Production/operations 4 1 0 1 Manufacturing ICT 6 1 1 0 Other technology 4 0 0 0 Marketing 4 1 0 1 Exportiing/ ng language training Property/location 3 1 0 0 Legislation 2 1 0 0 Environmental issues 4 0 0 0 4.6The majority of the respondents reported no specific sectoral focus, and where sectorally-specific activity was ‘mapped’, it is primarily designed for fast growth sectors, but no detail was provided except to highlight a Best Practice programme for the construction sector. There appears to be little activity specifically designed for declining sectors, although where the respondents reported sector- specific programmes they offer, these are mainly designed for those with structural problems, such as automotive and manufacturing. The needs of Luton’s key sectors identified in the Local Framework – ICT, transport, media and cultural industries and high-tech manufacture – appear not, yet, to have been addressed by the business support providers. Comments in the workshop, however, suggest that support traditionally provided to the manufacturing base is now being redirected to growth sectors such as finance, construction and business services, and support for exporting was specifically highlighted as an erstwhile gap which has now been addressed. Map 4.3: Luton: support for specific needs Σ 29
  36. 36. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas SPECIFIC NEED NO SPECIFIC DISABLED YOUNG ETHNIC WOMEN OTHER FOCUS TYPE OF SUPPORT General Management 5 0 1 1 0 0 Business Planning 4 1 3 2 1 0 Finance 5 1 1 1 1 0 Skills/HR 5 1 1 1 1 0 Production/operations 5 0 0 0 0 0 ICT 6 1 1 1 1 0 Other technology 4 0 0 0 0 0 Marketing 5 1 1 1 0 0 Property/location 4 0 0 0 0 0 Legislation 4 0 0 0 0 0 Environmental issues 4 0 0 0 0 0 4.7Again, most respondents presented themselves as generalist providers, with little information mapped about services designed for specific needs groups. There is some provision, particularly around the main business functions, for young, ethnic, disabled, and women-driven businesses, and again some support for all these groups in the area of ICT. The workshop provided further insight and comment on activity – or lack of it - for these groups. Specifically, comment was made that women are under-represented in Luton in terms of business start-up, but the workshop participants could not shed light on whether this is because there is insufficient support for them, or whether they face other non-related barriers. Luton’s Asian population includes female entrepreneurs, and comment was made at the workshop that this group is aware that support exists from the mainstream providers, but it is not appropriate for their needs. More widely in relation to ethnic businesses, the existence of a mismatch between the needs of ethnic entrepreneurs and the services provided was noted – a problem not peculiar to Luton, but where specifically-designed provision, or provision delivered by the ethnic group itself, may be required. Σ 30
  37. 37. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas The range and quality of providers Figure 4.1: the range and quality of providers - Luton RANGE TOTAL SAMPLE LUTON QUALITY TOTAL SAMPLE LUTON Similar 20 4 Similar 19 4 Fewer 9 2 Better 3 1 More 3 0 Poorer 8 1 Lack 19 3 Lack 21 3 knowledg Knowledge e Missing 4 0 Missing 4 0 Total 55 9 Total 55 9 4.8Issues of range and quality of provision were explored in the survey. The results, illustrated in Figure 4.1 above, report the responses from those providers of business support delivering services primarily in Luton. 4.9Nearly half the providers felt that the range of business support services in Luton was similar to the situation more widely in the East of England, whilst nearly a quarter believe the range to be smaller. No-one suggested that the range of support is greater than that elsewhere, and on the basis that support is sufficient for Luton’s needs, there is no reason to expect that the range of provision should exceed that delivered elsewhere. The slightly alarming result is that a third of respondents, albeit of a small sample, feel they lack the knowledge to comment – which implies that they may be operating in a market which they do not clearly understand. However, the workshop participants suggested that most respondents will know the sector of the market in which they are operating, but would not have a broad overview of all aspects of business support, which may have precluded them from responding. 4.10In terms of quality of support, nearly a third thought the quality was similar to elsewhere in the East of England, and nearly a quarter believed it to be poorer. A third of the respondents lacked the knowledge to make a judgement. No disagreement was expressed in the workshop with these findings, but the observation was – justifiably – made that this question should be asked of the recipients, i.e. the demand-side, rather than the supply-side who are being asked to judge themselves. Difficulties and incentives 4.11Over half the respondents cited difficulties in servicing businesses located in Luton. The nature of the difficulties included insufficient funding to provide the services required, or to sustain the staff needed to deliver the services; difficulty in engaging ethnic minority businesses within the formal network of support, a lack of demand from the business population in general, and the smaller providers experience barriers to becoming involved in local partnerships and funding regimes. In addition, the general issue of SMEs having the greatest need, but the least resources to allocate for Σ 31
  38. 38. Mapping business support in Objective 2 areas participating in business support activities was cited, although this is not specific to the Luton area. A particular problem, raised in the workshop, is the lack of premises suitable for progression from the start-up workspace and incubators in Luton. The result of this is that Luton may be losing newly established growing businesses, incubated in the Luton area, because they are relocating elsewhere (Milton Keynes was given as an example) which can offer appropriate premises to support their growth. 4.12Funding was the most often-cited incentive which would encourage providers to deliver more services in Luton. However, it is not just more funding which is required, but more flexible funding to respond to local needs, and better information about the wide range of funding available. Funding is required both for providers, but indirectly to SMEs to remove the barrier to accessing support and render it more affordable. Some actions already in process will act as incentives, or at least reduce the difficulties of operating in the Luton area; specifically, the development of a new locally located centre for delivering business services planned by one of the private-sector providers, and business premises to provide continuity with the incubation and start-up units, to avoid losing businesses to other locations outside the area. 4.13The workshop provided additional insight into the difficulties experienced in working in Objective 2 areas. In particular, considerable frustration was expressed about the difficulties in matching novel ideas against eligibility criteria, militating against delivery of innovative services. Contrary to the survey, partnerships were considered by workshop participants to be strong, but there was a recognition that they are likely to fragment at times when competing for funds. Overlaps and gaps 4.14The majority of respondents believe there are no overlaps between providers, which indicates that perhaps the market is not yet saturated, or even fully populated. Providers state that they are in fact still developing services to fill gaps in provision (the example was quoted of the programme ‘Outstanding Managers and Leaders’, which was designed specifically to address a gap at Chief Executive level). Due to the funding-driven nature of most providers’ activity, again there are likely to be few overlaps as funding should be used to respond to needs and gaps which have been identified on a regional or local level. 4.15Nearly a quarter believe there are overlaps, but where these were cited, the services were still differentiated in terms of the perceptions of quality assigned to different providers, or the design of the service. Some overlap may exist between the training organisations, but the majority of organisations claimed to have developed relatively specialist services, for example, where the same subject is taught but with a range of flexibility in the delivery. This result may therefore suggest a greater degree of specialisation and also collaboration between providers, reducing the likelihood of Σ 32

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