Street-level technocracy in UK small business support: Business Links, personal business advisers, and the Small Business Service
The broad focus of this paper is the divergence of implemented policy from intended policy in UK small business support. The Small Business Service (SBS) is the United Kingdom's most recent attempt to provide coherent support for small business. With its structure of local franchisees and multiagency partnerships, the SBS is part of the United Kingdom's Modernising Government agenda, which aims to provide 'joined-up' and responsive public services. However, it is not always easy for policymakers to execute new plans in the form in which they were intended. Street-level bureaucracies develop where those who implement complex policies amend them to make them easier to apply in practice. This paper investigates the UK Business Links' Personal Business Adviser (PBA) service. The paper draws on data from a focus group of ten PBAs and subsequent survey of the 175 PBAs in England and Wales conducted in summer 1998. The experience and tacit knowledge of PBAs provides the expertise for a bespoke support service to small businesses. Business advisers have both technical expertise and closeness to delivery that confers the power to amend small business policy. This tacit knowledge confers powers akin to a 'street-level technocracy'. Thus, policies that do not carry PBA support, such as targeting, are unlikely to be implemented effectively. A new approach to small business support has been formed from the difficulty in controlling PBAs through performance indicators, which appear to have distorted the intended policy, and the Modernising Government agenda. The new SBS devolves the operation, but not all control, of business advice from the national SBS to local Business Links. PBAs will play a major part in the network mode of governance of the new SBS franchisees.
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