Concerns about the lack of transparency, accountability and alignment of the Business Gateway vehicle that provides support for developing businesses have been voiced by a Holyrood committee in a report published today.
The Economy, Energy & Fair Work Committee inquiry took place as 10 years have passed since the Scottish Government transferred Business Gateway, which was introduced in 2003, from central to local government. There are now 18 lead local authority areas co-ordinating service delivery of Business Gateway on behalf of the 32 local authorities.
After investigating the effectiveness and efficiency of business support available to small and medium sized businesses, the MSPs are 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. Local authorities are responsible for setting their own Business Gateway targets, and the committee finds it "unacceptable" that there is limited transparency around Business Gateway budgets and performance.
As part of its 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 MSPs call on the Scottish Government to review the Irish model and consider whether it could be applied to Scotland.
They also recommend that:
- Business Gateway needs a clearly defined role and remit.
- Business Gateway has core targets that reflect a desire for continuous improvement, with 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.
Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst commented:
"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."
Asked for comment, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We welcome the report and will consider its conclusions and recommendations as part of our continual drive to ensure Scotland remains a 'can do' place for business. We will continue to work with local authorities and wider enterprise partners to ensure that Business Gateway delivers support tailored to local economic conditions and consistent with national objectives."