Hugh Lightbody, chief officer at the Business Gateway National Unit
Scotland’s national business advice service, Business Gateway, has praised the continued ambition of Scotland’s SMEs.
The recognition of Scotland’s business community’s drive was made following the release of the service’s annual review which shows a growing number of businesses and people across Scotland using Business Gateway’s services.
Hugh Lightbody, chief officer at the Business Gateway National Unit, said: “Scotland’s business community must be praised for its ambition and determination in an environment that continues to present economic challenges.
"Our annual review shows that record numbers are coming to Business Gateway for the first time for support and advice to grow their businesses and to help address hurdles they may find in their paths, demonstrating a desire to develop and achieve more.”
Throughout the 12 month period ending March 2017, 12,669 existing companies looked to expand and develop with support from Business Gateway, a record number and an increase of 37% on the previous year.
A record number of businesses (33,237) also engaged with the service for the first time, up by 26%. A total of 58,860 enquiries were received during the year from people who contacted the service seeking business support, the highest figure on record.
Business Gateway support helped a total of 10,629 new businesses to start trading during the year, with 8,983 of these supported directly by a local office, a marginal decrease of 1.1% from the previous year.
Research shows that a further 1,646 businesses started trading after they had received support from a local office, accessed information from the Business Gateway Enquiry Service or downloaded templates guides or market information from business Gateway’s website. It is estimated that these new starts created 11,600 jobs.
49% of new start businesses set up with support from Business Gateway during the period were owned or managed by women, significantly above official UK (21%) and Scottish estimates (20%) for women-led businesses (see notes to editors).
The number of clients projecting significant growth, e.g., by taking on new employees, increasing their sales or entering new international markets, is over 5,000.
These companies receive support from a Business Gateway growth adviser and are able to access some additional support from the Enterprise Agencies. Last year, a total of 2,648 new referrals were approved into this growth portfolio.
Economy secretary Keith Brown said: “Scotland’s small businesses are fundamental drivers in securing sustainable and inclusive economic growth. So it is extremely encouraging to see that record numbers are seeking out support to continue their growth.
“The success of the DigitalBoost programme, which I launched at a conference attended by over 250 Scottish businesses last year, proves that Scotland’s business community is building its skills to respond to the boom in the digital economy.
“This government will continue to do everything it can to support businesses of all sizes. Scotland already provides publicly-funded business support and help for exporting, and is simplifying regulation, reducing taxation, making it easier to find the finance businesses need to thrive and grow, and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.“
Cllr Steven Heddle, environment and economy spokesperson for COSLA, said: “Local authorities continue to play an important role in the successful delivery of Business Gateway’s local services through their ability to be flexible based on the needs of its own business community. The increasing use of the service by companies who are already actively trading, as well as those new starts, is good news for national and local economies.”
Skills training workshops to help businesses work more efficiently continued to see significant growth with an increase of 30% in the number of people attending (31,903) 3,551 workshops. Included in that figure are 5,037 people who attended 818 digital skills workshops delivered by DigitalBoost, a training programme launched in January 2016 and developed by Business Gateway in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise on behalf of Digital Scotland. The programme also provided 707 businesses with specialist, digital consultancy support.
The objective of DigitalBoost is to provide businesses in Scotland with opportunities to improve their technical and digital capabilities and help them use digital technology to enter new markets, trade internationally, increase efficiencies and potentially, employ more staff.
The Business Gateway service continued to see a significant rise (12.7%) in the use of its digital resources with a record 685,860 visitors to bgateway.com, up 13%. Over 2,600,000 pages of information were accessed, an increase of 14% from last year.
Hugh Lightbody, chief officer at the Business Gateway National Unit, added: “Business Gateway is about making connections for Scotland’s SME community. That may be connecting them to the right people or it may be connecting them to the right advice and knowledge. Everything we do is geared towards helping them with their own business objectives.
“As local authorities delivering the Business Gateway service continue to develop support for businesses, we will look to work ever more closely with our partners, including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and others, to ensure that businesses have access to a support package that meets their individual needs, wherever they are based.”