Bernard Ginns: Will any tears be spilt as the Business Links are cut?

And so, it has come to pass. Business Link Yorkshire is to be scrapped after the coalition Government decided to slash the amount of your money it spends on supporting SMEs.

I can't say I'm surprised, given this Government's antipathy towards taxpayer-funded economic development. More than 2bn has been spent in the name of economic development in Yorkshire. That spending has created jobs, but are those jobs sustainable? Does investment in economic development create wealth or just feed off it?

Business Link Yorkshire had laudable aims. Founded in 2008, it sought to offer a helping hand to those who wanted to start up a new business or to help existing businesses to grow. It provided a livelihood for 400 or so people.

It met with varying degrees of success. Customer satisfaction levels waivered then offered reasonably encouraging results.

The organisation itself claimed to be more effective than its four sub-regional predecessors, helping double the number of companies. But was it worth 35m a year of taxpayers' money? Hardly.

One of the main problems with economic development is that it is very difficult to measure outcomes. That is, a demonstrable return on investment. Any number of self-commissioned and self-serving surveys won't able to dispel the nagging doubt that a lot of public money spent on boosting the economy has ultimately gone to waste.

As has been well-documented in these columns, Business Link Yorkshire faced a number of problems during its short life span. These included concerns over its procurement process, a 1.4m misfiring computer system, fluctuating customer satisfaction levels, recruitment problems and changes to its senior management team.

Its managers claim to have improved things after a difficult first year, but that turnaround is now largely academic after the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that it is killing off the eight regional Business Links in November and replacing them with a new national website offering helpful information. This will be backed up by a national call centre.

A BIS spokesman explained: "The hope is the website will have most of what people need, but if they can't find what they need, they can call the contact centre and get specialist advice."

BIS has also enlisted the help of the British Bankers Association, which will pay for another website featuring regional lists of successful business people who will volunteer their services as mentors. The BIS spokesman went on: "That's based on a lot of feedback that businesses and entrepreneurs value advice from other business people more than paid civil servants. Everyone who's a mentor will be working in business. Some of the criticism before was that some of the people who work in Business Link weren't actually business people – they were public servants."

Business Link Yorkshire refutes this claim, insisting that all its advisers have run their own businesses.

A former adviser, who headed a number of firms before joining up, added that most of his colleagues were drawn from the business world. He said that businesses prefer "personal, practical" help and support, rather than being told what to do by a website.

He added: "Measuring the real benefits and actual costs of providing business support is not straightforward and it is easy to be critical and judgemental and I'm neither defending nor condemning Business Link. It will be interesting to see how others fair."

Yesterday, Tony Pedder, chairman of Business Link Yorkshire and a respected businessman, questioned how effective the Government's new model would be. He said: "Clearly, there are financial pressures and the Government wants to reduce costs. But I don't think it's quite as black and white to say paid-for is not good and volunteering is good.

"At the end of the day, you want to see very professional people who are well trained and very capable helping start-ups and established businesses. Because you have had a business career does not necessarily mean you automatically step into a volunteering role and can do a great job. Some will need training and support."

That training and support will cost money though and there isn't any, as he acknowledges.