Business Link put out of business

Regional elements of support service will be gone by end of 2011.

The government has announced that enterprise advice and support service Business Link will close in November 2011, with its paid advisors replaced by thousands of volunteer mentors.

As part of a major overhaul of its business support structure, ministers said entrepreneurs previously served by England’s Business Link advice centres will be supported by improved online services and a contact centre.

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The main Business Link website will be relaunched in April with new features including a "Business Startup Hub" providing access to company registration, a searchable database of government contracts, online training tools and "better, clearer information" on regulation. A national contact centre to help businesses who cannot find the information they need on the web or who are not connected to the internet will also be set up.

Business Link’s 1,600 paid advisors will be replaced by a network of 40,000 unpaid mentors who the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said will offer "practical advice to existing businesses and people who want to start a business".

Itis expected that the mentors will be confirmed by June when an online "Mentoring Gateway" will go live. Among the organisations talking to the government about providing mentors are Ecademy, Horsesmouth and The Prince’s Trust.

The unemployed are also being targeted as future entrepreneurs with the introduction of the National Enterprise Allowance, which will be launched in Merseyside later this month and rolled out nationwide in the Autumn. Around £50m is expected to be available.

The NEA will give people who have been unemployed financial support for their early months of self-employment, access to a startup loan, and a mentor. The government claims up to 40,000 new businesses will be created through the scheme by 2013.

Prime minister David Cameron said: "Throughout this year and beyond we will be focused relentlessly on supporting growth and driving job creation across our economy. Backing new enterprises to start up and small businesses to grow will be what transforms our economy and will deliver the many thousands of new jobs we will see created this year.

"It is vital that we ensure businesses, and those people who find themselves out of work but have the drive and desire to set up their own business, have all the advice, support and mentoring they need. Together we can make the years ahead some of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial in our history."