The Government hopes that the mentors currently signed up, who have received training paid for by the banks, will form the core of a larger nationwide network to fill the gap in support for business when its Business Link advice centres close this autumn.
Mark Prisk, the business minister, wants to have 35,000 mentors in place within a year, sourced from the banks and other sources like the Princes’ Trust and trade bodies.
The British Bankers’ Association say they plan to recruit and train 1,000 mentors over the next 12 months.
Prisk said: “The mentoring is really replacing the 1,500 currently state paid advisers we have under Business Link by recognising that most SMEs what they look for in advice is not necessarily something from government, what they are looking for is someone who has been there and done it; someone who has solved that problem and they are looking for that practical advice.
“So working with the British Bankers’ Association, the CBI and a lot of other business organisations and companies we are establishing this new mentoring network to substantially expand the business to business mentoring programme.
“It is more informal. It is not going to be something that is state paid, with all the problems that comes with that. It is about harnessing what I find with most business people: their enthusiasm to help other small businesses come up behind them.”
“We are aiming over the coming 12 months – we will not have it from day one – to get up to 35,000, maybe 40,000 business to business mentors. That’s many people who are doing this already but it is real business people actually helping other business people.”
Angela Knight, the BBA’s chief executive, said: “We recognise it is often a lonely place to be for a business when stepping out on their own for the first time or running their existing business day to day. That’s when a mentor can help.”
Business groups backed the move. The Federation of Small Businesses said experienced business owners were an “over-looked” resource who could supply valuable advice to start-ups and existing firms.
However the plumbing entrepreneur Charlie Mullins slammed the scheme as ‘plain and simple hypocrisy.’
Mullins questioned how the banks are in a position to offer business advice following the banking crisis and the UK’s subsequent economic disaster.
Mullins said: “SME businesses should avoid advice from the banks like the plague. But after their performance over the last few years who’d want business advice from them anyway?
“Rather than getting their own house in order after blowing their own and their shareholders’ cash they now want to try their hand at losing a load of hard-earned private livelihoods too.”
“It’s hard enough for businesses to get money out of the banks as it is. They say there is money to lend and this scheme will help them access it. There will be plenty of companies that will forever mistrust the banks so I just hope they don’t make going through this service a stipulation of business lending.”
Small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) will be able to access them through a new website: www.mentorsme.co.uk