Holyrood committee criticises ‘unacceptable’ lack of data on Business Gateway targets and performance
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A Holyrood committee has criticised the “unacceptable” lack of data on Business Gateway’s targets and performance.
In a report published today, the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee raised serious concerns about the business support service’s poor transparency, accountability and alignment with national economic development priorities.
Among the committee’s concerns are that councils, which provide Business Gateway services, are responsible for setting their own targets, but are not publishing those targets, nor data on performance against targets or what they are spending.
It also pointed out that there is no national coordination, meaning local targets do not necessarily align with national strategies for economic growth.
Business Gateway was set up in 2003 to act as a single access point to business support services.
In 2008 responsibility was transferred to councils, with 18 lead local authority areas co-ordinating delivery of the service on behalf of the 32 Scottish councils.
Ten years on, the cross-party committee of MSPs said it was “regrettable” that Business Gateway had now drifted away from its original purpose without “any strategic plan or review”.
Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee convener Gordon Lindhurst said: “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.”
The committee also pointed to a “missed opportunity” that Business Gateway had not been included in the recent Enterprise and Skills Review, which looked at the various business support services and bodies in Scotland.
The report questions how Business Gateway would fit with the new digital single access point to business support, due to be trialled this spring, given that being the access point was meant to be one of Business Gateway’s roles.
Among its recommendations for change, the committee called for development of targets to be produced in collaboration with the business bodies such as the FSB and chambers of commerce that align with national economic plans and for performance to be monitored by and independent body.
The committee also recommended that the Scottish Government look at Ireland as a model for reform of the business support service, where it said there is a mixture of local delivery and national strategic direction.
“The Irish model has evolved from a situation similar to the current Scottish context and appears to us on initial examination to deliver alignment and accountability,” the committee said.