The future for Growth Hubs?
Growth Hubs have been around in some form or other, in some places and then all over the country, for nearly 5 years now. They have all developed in diverse ways. Some, like the West of England’s Growth Hub, have perhaps remained truest to the original concept for Hubs, providing only an online portal for SMEs to find and access existing business support and advice services. Others have physical Hub offices and directly deliver services and advice, proactively seeking out businesses to help. Some Hubs are distinct legal entities, others are part of a LEP, Local Authority or Combined Authority.
Government funding for Hubs is currently due to end in March 2018, from which point they should be financially self-sustaining. Can a Hub be financially self-sustaining? There are already private sector offers that users pay for – Enterprising Nation is just one example – that do some or all of what a Hub should do. Is there a need for a new market entrant?
In places like the West of England, where there is a very active system of support involving Universities, Chambers of Commerce, Local Authorities and other institutions alongside a strong legal and professional services sector, does a Hub need to do anything more than help businesses quickly navigate the system and find the support and advice they need?
What will the Autumn Statement bring for Growth Hubs? Will government continue to pursue the aim that Hubs should be financially self-sufficient. If the private sector says that these things are vital, then government will help stimulate their provision, but once established they should be paid for by their users. Or, will government agree new funding for enhanced Hubs and move back (or forward) to a position whereby publicly funded face-to-face advice and support is a vital ingredient in helping businesses to grow, and even scale.
Whatever the Autumn Statement says, what should be the future for our West of England Growth Hub? Should we continue with our light touch approach, relying on the Hub as a first point of call for any business looking to understand and engage with our broad range of support? Should the Hub offer direct advice and guidance – if so, where are the gaps in existing provision? How should the Hub handle business-2-business offers? Can the Hub play a role in fostering mentoring between businesses?
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