This says it all
Here is the moment the last trace of female-targeted business information was erased from UK Government information for new business and the self-employed. This is the IT team photo posted with their Tweet below. Spot the irony.
Now, they look like a lovely bunch of lads, caught up in a moment of post all-nighter euphoria. And apparently one of our heroines, Government Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox, had more than a passing input to the project. They have all clearly put a huge amount of sincere effort into the change.
Why they’ve got it wrong
Mike Bracken heads up the Government Digital Service (GDS) team, who masterminded the switch. In an article in Guardian Technology, he outlines the philosophy behind the switch and why it matters. It boils down to a relentless focus on simplicity and ‘task completion’. In business support terms, it sounds like the ‘transactional model’ where users know the information they want and just want it quickly. For a small group of entrepreneurs that’s the right approach.
But for most people starting and growing a business is a learning experience as well. The old Business Link website wasn’t perfect, but it was a treasure trove of learning opportunities, information and routes. It was widely regarded as an excellent resource.
According to reviews by businesses on UK Business Forums, the new site is also riddled with misleading information about business accounting records and intellectual property. We tested the business finance and support provider and it suggested five options for support: two of which were a Barclays Commercial mortgage and a Barclays Business Loan over £25,000. Not useful. Not impartial. Not ready. As others have pointed out, wouldn’t it be better to put the old Business Link site back up until the growing catalogue of errors are sorted out?
One size fits all?
The development team are proud of their relentless focus on getting rid of superfluous pages. Areas used infrequently by a small number of users have been dropped. In this ‘one size fits all’ model, you’d expect any non-mainstream information to be squeezed out: and indeed it’s not just women, the social enterprise section has been ‘reduced’ to a single (and misleading) page on legal structures.
If you try to find the section which covered extra support available for disabled people, the new site pushes you through to the ‘business finance and support provider’ and on to the Barclays products now.
The diversity section – which had covered how equality and diversity policies can benefit your business and create an open, communicative workplace – has turned negative. It’s now just about ‘preventing discrimination.’ Sure, diversity was never a mainstream issue, but cutting it out of mainstream sources doesn’t help. For the small number of people working to persuade others of the real business benefits of a more diverse workforce, the useful information on the Business Link website was a great support.
Business Link emailed its subscribers about the proposed switch on 19th September. Prowess 2.0 emailed them immediately to flag-up our concerns. We told them that women hugely value the information on businesslink.gov. From our own statistics we estimate that new start-ups used the Business Link site twenty times as much as they use all of the other private sector small business portals, combined.
There is targeted information for women in business on the BL site. Can you confirm that this will also be the case with gov.uk? With women now comprising over half of those registering self-employed, and presenting often very different experience and aspirations, I believe it is more important than ever.
So far, we haven’t had a response.
Mike Bracken has said they don’t expect to get it right first time. They expect criticism and look forward to listening to and collaborating with users. While gov.uk’s first cut hasn’t impressed, that attitude does. The Business Link website was a vital resource for UK businesses; with more people becoming self-employed than ever before gov.uk needs to improve, fast.