“The UK faces a productivity challenge whereby its performance has weakened compared to the rest of the G8 economies. Research demonstrates that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a key under-tapped resource for addressing this challenge… We believe the education of high-growth small businesses has a vital role to play in enhancing this enterprising economy”

…Michael Sherwood and Richard Gnodde co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs International.


The Business Growth Service (BGS), which includes the popular Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) and the Growth Accelerator programme, ended operations in November last year. It was a nationally delivered advisory service and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has justified its closure by saying that it was investing £12m per year into 39 local Growth Hubs led by Local Enterprise Partnerships. However, it also said that the closure of the BGS will save the government £84m, so this does sound like an overall reduction in financial support for SME business advice.

If you are a small business looking for some help to grow – where could you start looking? Following the BGS closure, the government’s small business czar, Anna Soubry has pointed to LEP Growth Hubs as being the alternative; “Where taxpayers’ money is used to provide support, this is best done at the local level which is why we’re providing further funding to growth hubs and away from Whitehall, she said.” It must be said that in the seamless world of technology centres, crowd funding and web based peer to peer financing, “local level” support for this type of advice does sound a touch antediluvian…

In any event, BGS support was provided through organisations such as Grant Thornton and Oxford Innovation, so hardly Whitehall. What’s more, figures on the BGS website show that it has assisted more than 18,000 businesses, helped SMEs raise more than £100m in finance and has a 94% approval rating from businesses that have used the service. Not bad KPIs, one would have thought; curiouser and curiouser, one might say…

For most of those who either used the service or were about to, having an efficient  process to assess the need for support, measure the impact of the advice and make quick decisions was seen as highly effective. The BGS website was clear and easy to use (take a look at the LEP growth hub one and you will struggle to see how LEPs can give simple pragmatic advice) and comments made largely by SME CEOs and published by Real Business and the Guardian newspaper certainly seem to illustrate disappointment at its closure:

  • “an extraordinary move”
  • “disheartening to many SMEs which already feel the government doesn’t do enough to level the playing field against larger players”
  • “it was ideal for our needs – helping us to achieve scale up growth”
  • “a surprising U-turn from the Conservatives, which traditionally markets itself as a ‘friend to business”
  • “the transition from a small business to a medium business can be exceptionally challenging and Growth Accelerator offered a great platform for assistance”
  • “the closure of the Business Growth Service both a shock and contradiction”
  • “I can attest to it delivering real world help to SMEs. In particular it’s great to get advice from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something”
  • “It will not only affect everyone directly involved but also the economy on a whole”
  • “I know many businesses around the Midlands that have benefited from the help and support of MAS and who would not have survived or developed in the same way”
  • “closing the Business Growth Service…is wholly at odds with such a spirit of progressive entrepreneurism”
  • “Britain’s longer-term economic backdrop will be the poorer for it”

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, said: “The closing of the Growth Accelerator scheme shows that the government clearly expects the private sector to take over its small business support function.”

Looking back to the launch of the BGS, the then business secretary, Vince Cable, said: “With targeted support we are giving entrepreneurs a fantastic opportunity to take their businesses forward to succeed both here and abroad.”

Now, in this U-turn, Anna Soubry has said: “The most important way we can help small businesses is to continue to secure a strong, growing economy and that’s exactly what this government is doing. We’ll keep cutting red tape and have extended small business rate relief for an extra year, freeing up small firms to do what they do best.”


SME physician, heal thyself, seems to be the message from the current small business Czar…