The coalition government is hoping to create an “informal” nationwide network of 40,000 business mentors over the year ahead to support small-to-medium enterprises in areas such as HR, marketing and finance.
The initial plank of the scheme, launched by the British Banking Association yesterday, is expected to see 1,000 current and retired employees from Barclays, HSBC, RBS, Lloyds and Santander being recruited as volunteers over the next 12 months. So far 231 have signed up and will receive training from the UK Skills Sector Body for Enterprise and Business Support.
The mentors will form part of a wider pool of volunteers sourced from organisations such as the Princes’ Trust, the CBI and other trade bodies. They are intended to try and fill the gap left by the closure of the government’s Business Link advice centres this autumn. SMEs will be able to find local mentors and other resources at a new website - www.mentorsme.co.uk.
Business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk said: “The mentoring is really replacing the 1,500 currently state paid advisors we have under Business Link by recognising that most SMEs what they look for in advice is not necessarily something from government. What they are looking for is someone who has been there and done it; someone who has solved that problem and they are looking for that practical advice.”
As a result, by working with the British Bankers’ Association, the CBI and various other business organisations and companies, the aim was to create a “single, cohesive network of mentoring provision” for the first time in the UK, he added.
At the same time, however, the Forum of Private Business also launched its own special work experience placement scheme for MPs. Dubbed the ‘Business Buddy’ scheme, the aim is to provide elected representatives with first-hand experience of what it is like to work in a small business in order to understand what challenges they face.
The hope is that MPs will stay in touch with business owners after their placement, creating a ‘hotline’ for them to communicate any emerging issues or concerns.
The Forum’s head of campaigns Jane Bennett said: “It’s all well and good for lobby groups like the Forum to tell the Government about the issues facing small businesses, but there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. We want politicians to see for themselves what it’s like to run a small business.”
Some 97 MPs, including Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin, Tourism Minister John Penrose and Chuka Umunna, Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, have already signed up to the initiative.
Each MP will be expected to spend at least half a day at the business with which they have agreed to work and attempts will be made to match them with companies that are linked to their roles wherever possible. Letwin has agreed to work in a pie shop in his West Dorset constituency in September.