The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee has expressed concern about the lack of transparency, accountability and alignment of Business Gateway, a local-authority provision that aims to help businesses develop and grow.
With ten years having passed since the Scottish Government transferred Business Gateway to Scotland’s local authorities, the Committee launched its inquiry into the effectiveness and efficiency of business support available to small and medium sized businesses.
The Committee was particularly concerned about the lack of accountability for the remit and performance of Business Gateway, and its position within Scotland’s wider business support landscape. The Committee noted that local authorities are responsible for setting their own Business Gateway targets and found it ‘unacceptable’ that there was limited transparency around Business Gateway budgets and performance.
Gordon Lindhurst, Convener of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee said:
“There is a lack of alignment, transparency and accountability in Business Gateway, and we found it unacceptable that local authorities do not consistently record and publish targets or financial information.
“It was essential for the Committee to hear directly from businesses about their experiences with business support. There is much to be commended, but opportunities have been missed to align local and national economic priorities and to make it easier for businesses to be able to access services.”
As part of this inquiry, the Committee looked at business support elsewhere and was impressed by the services in Ireland, which provide a mix of tailored local delivery and national strategic direction. The Committee now asks the Scottish Government to review the Irish model and consider whether it could be applied to Scotland to overcome the current accountability and alignment challenges.
The Committee also recommends that:
• There needs to be a clearly defined role and remit for Business Gateway.
• Business Gateway has core targets that reflect a desire for continuous improvement, and that there is external monitoring of these targets.
• Business Gateway spend should be published by each local authority in an annual report.
• Business Gateway offices should look for opportunities to improve collaboration with stakeholders, be it through co-location or other means, and learn lessons from best practice models.
• The Scottish Government creates a National Head of Women in Business to coordinate national policy and work towards the establishment of a National Women's Centre for Business.
Business Gateway was passed to local authority control in 2008, after being introduced in 2003. There are 18 lead local authority areas co-ordinating service delivery of Business Gateway on behalf of the 32 local authorities.
The remit of the Business Support inquiry was to “understand the range of support services available to new and existing small and medium sized businesses at a local level across Scotland, with a particular focus on Business Gateway. The Committee will evaluate current provision and explore ways of ensuring businesses receive the support they need to grow and succeed.”
The number of businesses starting-up in Scotland is important to economic growth. There were 345,915 private sector businesses (registered and unregistered and excluding central and local government) operating in Scotland in 2018 – a fall of 8,830 (-2.5%) since 2017.
Find the committee’s full report on Business Support here