Norfolk loses out once again

PUBLISHED: 09:02 15 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:01 22 October 2010

Norfolk business leaders are angry after the plug was pulled on the county's business support agency - to make way for a new service based in Hertfordshire and Essex.

Norfolk business leaders hit out last night after the plug was pulled on the county's business support agency - to make way for a new service based in Hertfordshire and Essex.

The East of England Develop-ment Agency (Eeda) yesterday confirmed it was scrapping the Business Link for Norfolk - which offers advice and support to thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across the county - and replacing it with a new regional service.

The new service, which will have a budget of £45m over three years, is set to be operated by Business Links in Essex and Hertfordshire.

They were selected by Eeda as preferred bidder ahead of a rival consortium led by Business Links in Norfolk and Suffolk.

But politicians and business leaders attacked the decision to create a “distant” regional service - claiming it was yet another example of power being shifted away from Norfolk. It follows the controversial plans to merge the region's police forces and the decision to scrap the Learning Skills Council for Norfolk in favour of a regional body.

Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, said he was deeply unhappy about the decision to create a region-wide business support service.

He said he would raise the planned reorganisation with ministers in the House of Commons.

“It is the government's regionalisation agenda and their plan to get rid of Norfolk and move everything to Milton Keynes or Cambridge,” he said.

“It is an example of non-joined- up government thinking and the one-size-fits-all mentality. It is time that people began to wake up to what is happening. If this carries on, Norfolk will lose its identity.

“Norfolk is different to other parts of the region and it warrants a uniquely tailored approach for business support.”

Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are obviously disappointed that our local consortium were not successful and there is real concern about how quickly the successful bidders will be able to understand the local needs of the area and be able to provide the help and support Norfolk businesses require to ensure they provide the jobs and economic wealth for Norfolk.

“The chamber will be at the forefront to ensure that these discussions take place at an early stage and will work to ensure that Norfolk businesses benefit from the new regional model.”

Business Links acts as a source of expert advice and support for small and medium-sized enterprises, offering information on everything from marketing and banking to export laws. Last year, Norfolk Business Link helped more than 9,500 clients, its advisers' local knowledge and expertise being a major benefit to a variety of firms.

Julian Campbell, head of operations at Business Link Norfolk, criticised the decision to choose the Hertfordshire and Essex consortium.

He said: “We are clearly disappointed that the consortium Business Link Norfolk was involved has not been successful.

“We fail to understand how the new business link service which will be based in Hertfordshire and Essex will serve the interests of businesses in Norfolk.

“We are surprised at Eeda's decision because we understood that they wanted a new service operated with much more private sector input.

“They seem to have taken an opposite view in choosing current public sector business link operators. This clearly marks a decision by the regional development agency to shift investment for business support services to the south of the region.

“For 12 years businesses in Norfolk have been able to benefit from a county-based business link operation that has been focused on meeting Norfolk's needs. Unfortunately the same quality of service will not be available from April 2007.”

But Steve Cox, Eeda director general of development, said: “The proposed regional model will allow us to save money on back office functions and allow us to provide more front-line advisers for business.

“We are genuinely excited about the innovative plans of our preferred bidder and we believe we will be able to create a much better service for businesses in Norfolk.”

Eeda will now be working with the new consortium, called EEIDB, to finalise details of the contract which will begin next April.

Pat Smith, chief executive designate of EEIDB, said: “We relish the opportunity of working with a wide range of partners to turn our vision of supporting the economic growth of the region into a reality.”

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press