Business Links must be seen to be commercial bodies and not executive agencies of government, Ian Lang, president of the Board of Trade, warned yesterday.
Announcing the expansion of Business Links into a national support network for Britain's 3.6 million small firms, Mr Lang confirmed that by next March he expected more than 240 of the local organisations to be in place.
Mr Lang made clear that the long-term fate of Business Links depended on their ability to attract customers who would judge the effectiveness of their services.
The Government is expecting Business Links to generate about a quarter of their pounds 100m a year income from fees from private clients by 1998/9, a proportion expected to increase later.
Business Links are private sector bodies run by partnerships made up of Training and Enterprise Councils, Chambers of Commerce, local authorities, enterprise agencies, universities and banks. Their revenue comes from the DTI, partner organisations and fees from clients. Inaugurated two years ago, the links are a one-stop shop for small business and will be the retail outlet for all government services to support small and medium business.
Mr Lang said the network was the "greatest single support" ever given to small and medium-sized business.