28/05/2015 - 09:12

RSM to run SME centres

28/05/2015 - 09:12


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Helping small business is turning into a bigger business for a handful of service providers selected to run the state government’s SME advisory network, which is about to go through a large and, in places, contentious restructure.

Small Business Development Corporation chief executive David Eaton.

Helping small business is turning into a bigger business for a handful of service providers selected to run the state government’s SME advisory network, which is about to go through a large and, in places, contentious restructure.

The state government has selected seven organisations to run its cut-down network of small business centres, which from 1 July will be known as Business Local.

Accounting firm RSM Bird Cameron is the biggest winner – it has been contracted to run four centres in regional WA, covering the Wheatbelt, Mid West, Gascoyne and Pilbara regions.

Business Station, which currently runs the small business centre in Gosnells, will substantially expand after winning contracts to run new centres covering the east metro and north metro regions.

Business Foundations, which now runs centres in Fremantle and Rockingham, has also picked up two new contracts, covering the south-east metro and Peel regions.

WA currently has 25 small business centres, including 19 in regional areas. Under the new model, the state will have just 12 centres, including nine in regional areas.

Small business minister Joe Francis said the new model was designed to deliver more streamlined services with reduced administration and overhead costs.

“It represents better value for money because it will fund high quality business advisory services instead of buildings and administration,” he told parliament.

The tender process, run by the Department of Finance, has disappointed some of the current service providers, who are unsure why they missed out.

The Wheatbelt Business Network was asked last year to take over the Narrogin small business centre, and very quickly was able to meet the performance targets.

It teamed up with other SBC operators across the Wheatbelt to bid for a new Business Local contract, to no avail.

“The overall feeling is that there was little understanding of what actually happens in the regions,” WBN executive officer Caroline Robinson told Business News.

“We revamped the service at Narrogin and were working well in the regions, with lots of face-to-face contact with businesses out here.”

Small Business Development Corporation chief executive David Eaton acknowledged the Wheatbelt Business Network had stepped into the breach at Narrogin and done a great job.

“I understand their disappointment but I’m really confident the tender process was based on merit,” Mr Eaton said.

The new structure is designed to take the service away from being town-centric and building-centric.

“I expect more consistent and higher quality service delivery,” he said.

“We’re also keen to get more collaboration on a regional basis.”

Mr Eaton said that based on the successful tenders, the SBDC was expecting the number of advisers across the Business Local network to increase by around 75 per cent to nearly 60.

RSM Bird Cameron partner Andrew Johnson said his firm will be recruiting new people to run the Business Local service.

“We’re very clear that the service providers will be different from our tax and business advisers,” Mr Johnson said.

He said RSM had achieved considerable success with its indigenous business program in the Pilbara.

“That approach is what we will look to bring to the program.”

He also emphasised that the advisers will not be desk-bound.

“If you don’t get out from behind the desk, you don’t get engagement and you don’t see exactly how the businesses operate.”

One surprise result from the tender process was the omission of the Esperance SBC, which teamed up with the Kalgoorlie SBC to bid for a new contract for the Goldfields region.

The Esperance SBC was one of four not-for-profit service providers in WA – along with Business Station, Business Foundations and the Bunbury SBC – to recently secure three-year funding under the federal government’s $17 million Australian Small Business Advisory Services program.

Despite that success and its track record in the region, it lost out to a competing bid from the Kalgoorlie Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

SBC Stirling will continue operating despite not being involved in the new program.

It will change its trading name in July to WA Business Assist, which is the name of a fee-based business advisory and coaching service it runs alongside the government’s current SBC service.

Acting managing director Peter Thomas said the not-for-profit group, which is supported by the City of Stirling, also co-manages a business incubator with the Stirling Business Association as part of the Stirling Business Alliance.


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