One of the leading figures behind Business Link West Midlands today made a rallying call for rural businesses to tap into the new service.
Peter Pawsey, Chairman of the Gateway, part of Business Link West Midlands, believes companies in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire will never have a better chance to work towards a more productive future and build on the recent drive towards a knowledge-based economy.
The influential business leader promised that the ‘rural agenda’ is an important area for the new service and believes the ‘simple access’ to advice will encourage more companies to make the most of the support on offer.
“Business Link West Midlands represents a whole new era of business support, which places the customer at the heart of every aspect of the service, from the minute they ring into the contact centre (0845 113 1234), right through to the initial assessment and intensive support delivered through the Brokerage division,” explained Peter, who also chairs Advantage West Midlands’ Rural Regeneration Zone.
“We have listened to what companies and individuals want and transferred it into a service that, for the first time, will provide a single point of contact for business, skills and manufacturing support.”
He went on to add: “This is no longer about providing advice by location. We don’t want companies to choose support that fits into certain products streams, in fact it is the complete opposite. We want them to work with us on identifying how they can improve their firm, boost the skills of their staff or even start their own enterprise – we will then provide the knowledge and external experience needed to make this happen.”
One of Peter’s key focuses will be ensuring that Business Link West Midlands helps to create an environment where high skills employment is attracted, entrepreneurs are cultivated and graduates are retained.
“Whilst unemployment rates in rural areas are fairly low, this is mirrored by wage and skill levels and has led to many of the young people leaving in search of better jobs. There is also a strong reliance on the traditional economic sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, food and tourism and we need to do our utmost to support these industries, but also look at ways in which we can welcome and build on emerging markets, such as environmental technologies and R&D activity.”
Peter continued: “Enterprise is also another big opportunity and the rates of new start-ups in rural areas are, on average, higher than urban counterparts. Villages and market towns are now able to benefit from broadband technology and we are currently seeing a boom in home working, with self employment nearly 8% above the regional average.
“The team at Business Link West Midlands has recognised these trends and built the offer around meeting these requirements. For example, allocating one of the 140 business advisers will be based on relevant skills and expertise and not on whether they are based five minutes down the road; the first ever West Midlands Supplier Register will provide a quality assured list of over 1000 providers and the Knowledge Bank will offer critical information at a click of a button on the different support programmes available in the region. In essence, simple but effective is the mantra going forward.
“Plans are also in place for the roll-out of ‘surgeries’ across rural areas, where advisers will be hosted within partner organisations, such as universities, colleges, libraries and business centres.”
It is estimated that Business Link West Midlands will provide over 70,000 companies and individuals thinking of starting a business with information, with a further 16,000 receiving intensive support from experienced advisers by 2010.
This level of support is expected to generate a £400m improvement to the economic performance of the West Midlands.
Peter, who is also currently Chairman of Worcester-based Robert West Consulting Engineers, concluded: “Since 1998, we have seen the number of companies in rural areas increase by 15% and this is something we want to build on going forward. It will also be essential for Business Link’s activity to fit in with the work of Advantage West Midlands’ Rural Regeneration Zone - the only one of its kind in the UK.”