Small Businesses Reluctant to Use Government Mentoring Scheme

The majority of small-business owners are unlikely to use the Government’s network of volunteer mentors after state funding for Business Link is withdrawn in November.

Some three-quarters of respondents to the University of Nottingham’s quarterly UK Business Barometer said they would forego the Mentorsme website that is to replace face-to-face support when local Business Links close.

One respondent said: “I’ve always believed that business advisers/mentors should have run successful businesses themselves, so I generally support the mentoring scheme. However, the Government is setting great store by the use of mentors and I’m not clear how they propose to ensure the quality and reliability of provision.”

This was echoed by Dawn Whiteley, chief executive of the National Enterprise Network.

“We absolutely agree with the concept of mentoring but we think it needs to be part of a holistic range of business support, not a sideline.”

“While it’s great to encourage the private sector to take a role in being a mentor, we think an induction is required to help them understand what a mentor is and isn’t, and the boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.”

The Mentorsme portal has been set up as part of a wider overhaul of business support. When announced, the Government said it would provide access to 40,000 voluntary and paid-for mentors. No exact numbers are available to confirm if registrations are matching expectations at present.

However, the survey also found that one in three (30 per cent) business owners said they would consider volunteering as a mentor.

Dr Louise Scholes, lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Nottingham, said the results reflected the uncertainty around the future of business support.

“The opinions about Business Link are mixed. Some people think they weren’t much help anyway and some say they were vital for supporting small businesses. Although Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are starting up, their role isn’t really clear at the moment.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills did not respond to a request for comment.

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