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12 April, 2006 - 09:59 By Staff Reporter

Companies fume at DTI decision to axe key fund

Hundreds of East of England firms have been left in limbo by an 11th hour decision by the DTI to scrap funding under a best practice scheme.Hundreds of East of England firms have been left in limbo by an 11th hour decision by the DTI to scrap funding under a best practice scheme.

Business Link advisers in the region had so successfully ‘sold’ the scheme to local companies that the East of England had the second highest take-up in the whole of the UK for the SIBBP (Support for Implementation of Business Best Practice) consultancy grants.

Senior executives had given up hours of their time to contribute to associated benchmarking surveys being conducted by Business Link advisers – only to learn their efforts had been in vain.

Business Link sources tell Business Weekly that no prior warning had been given that funding might be clawed back when they arranged interviews with local businesses.

EEDA and Business Link were the titular deliverers of the SIBBP but the DTI was pulling the strings. An EEDA statement prompted by Business Weekly on behalf of disappointed local executives said the DTI “has had to withdraw the SIBBP funding because its budgets are stretched.”

It adds: “The DTI has had to make difficult choices about its priorities, and SIBBP cannot be afforded from April 2006.

The DTI has, however, indicated that existing SIBBP grant commitments will hopefully still be honoured.”

That means any company sitting on an official ‘offer’ letter from the DTI should get their money – but there are no guarantees.

Sources close to the DTI say the goalposts were shifted after Gordon Brown’s last Budget, which required ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

One Business Link adviser told Business Weekly that the situation was a “disgrace” and “totally unacceptable” and would make other grant schemes much harder to promote.

One executive who said he “went through hoops” to try to get the funding after being approached by his local Business Link added: “We won’t trust them again.”

EEDA said: “Although the DTI has announced that it will not be able to provide the funds for the SIBBP scheme from 2006/7, we believe that our current provision for business support will more than alleviate any negative effects that the withdrawal of funding may have on small businesses in the region.”

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