A revamp designed to improve the service offered to aspiring entrepreneurs in the region by the Business Gateway appears to be paying dividends.
Scottish Borders Council has run the free advisory service, based at Selkirk’s Ettrick Riverside, since 2012, following the demise of Scotland’s network of local enterprise companies and, in May last year, an improvement plan was invoked.
The purpose was to meet nationally-set targets in an area where, it was acknowledged, the economic recovery – dependent on new potentially job-creating start-ups – has been faltering.
And councillors were told this week that the service – which costs £328,000 a year to run and also offers support to existing companies – was “well on track” to meet, and in many cases exceed, those targets.
Tuesday’s first meeting of the new economic development-themed executive of SBC heard that in the nine months to December 31, the Business Gateway team worked with 469 businesses and individuals, and assisted 151 business start-ups, of which 16 had the potential to be high growth.
The advisers delivered 61 start-up workshops and 48 local workshops with 635 attendees. These workshop numbers include a series of half-day business start-up outreach sessions which had allowed the team to have a “visible presence” across the region.
The performance report noted that 88 per cent of start-up enterprises supported by Business Gateway survived beyond 12 months, compared to 76 per cent across Scotland.
And a customer survey focusing on the period from July to September last year gave the service an overall satisfaction rating of 89 per cent (85 per cent nationally) with 91 per cent (87 per cent) of clients saying they would recommend the service to a friend.
However, the performance with so-called growth companies, with the potential to expand and create jobs, missed its goal, with only four firms being accepted into the pipeline for support from Scottish Enterprise, against a target of 10.
“Higher value and growth targets are generally difficult to achieve here due to the structure of the business base and the current economic climate,” explained Business Gateway manager Phil McCreadie. “However, we are continuing to work with a number of clients in these areas.”
Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development, said the performance figures showed Business Gateway was “excellent value for money.
“The effectiveness of the service, which provides free tailored business advice, is evidenced by the high level of customer satisfaction and business survival rates,” he added.
Councillors also heard that, so far this financial year, the Scottish Borders Business Fund had received 52 applications and approved 43 grants, valued at a total of £118,300, supporting projects with a combined value of around £258,700. These projects were forecast to create 82 jobs and safeguard another 112.