These articles were written by small business commentator and publisher Cobweb Information.

Business support groups angry at appointment on new LEP leadership network

Representatives from UK business support groups have voiced their concerns after Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced that the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has been chosen to lead a national network of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which will cost £300,000 to set up.

Organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Forum of Private Business (FBP) have criticised the Department for Communities and Local Government's (CLG) decision to ask the BCC to lead the network of LEPs without going through a formal consultation or procurement process first.

Phil Orford, chief executive of the FBP said: "To discover that Government has been holding unilateral discussions with one business organisation to provide a networking body for the LEPs, without competitive tender is frankly surprising and disappointing and will raise questions about the localism agenda and public procurement policy."

The BCC will lead the new network which will apparently serve as a forum for the LEPs to share best practice, solve local issues and drive economic growth. The network will also act as an advocate for the LEPs in Whitehall. However, business groups are concerned that more diverse regional and local economic issues will not be taken into account if just one national organisation represents millions of businesses across the whole of the country.

John Walker, national chairman of the FSB said: "For LEPs to be truly effective they need to represent diverse business interests. Picking a single business organisation to run it in this way risks isolating both those businesses which are not a member of any membership body and those who are members of groups that haven't been included from LEPs."

Miles Templeman, director general of the IoD commented: "We question seriously the need to spend £300,000 of taxpayers' money on a body whose purpose is to lobby national Government on behalf of LEPs. No case has been made to [the IoD] on this arrangement."

Despite business groups being openly unimpressed with the set up, Mr Pickles was positive about the appointment in his announcement of the launch of the network: "The BCC came forward with a very strong proposal and with its existing business network across the country it is really well placed to anchor business at the centre of new local enterprise."

While business groups are in agreement that LEPs would benefit from a necessary degree of national co-ordination, they are also raising fair questions about the Government's commitment to localism and a more transparent public procurement policy.

New R&D funding scheme to fall short of its predecessor

A programme allowing small firms to apply for grants to research and develop new products has been re-launched with less funding, officials have admitted. The Grant for R&D is inviting applications for grants of up to £250,000 from small and medium-sized businesses seeking to develop prototypes or research new concepts or markets. A spokesman for the Technology Strategy Board, which will administer the scheme, said its budget was yet to be finalised, but admitted: "It is inevitable that the funding levels will not be as high. That is due to the deficit, which is the Government’s priority."

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Project Merlin is failing to get banks lending, small businesses say

Most small businesses have seen no change in banks' approach to lending since Project Merlin was announced earlier this year, according to a new poll conducted by HotFrog. Some 70% said better access to funding would allow them to expand, with most of those claiming that they would hire at least one extra worker. However, despite promises that £76 billion would be earmarked for small and medium-sized businesses as part of the agreement between the Government and UK's biggest banks, more than three quarters of firms in the survey said they had not seen any change two months on.

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Legal advice for retailers on Royal Wedding holiday rules

Advice on how retailers should deal with staffing issues arising from the Royal Wedding public holiday later this month has been published by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS). The advice piece, by the ACS's legal advisor Graham Randall, says "There is no statutory requirement that employers must allow their staff to take public holidays and unless the contract of employment or industry custom provides otherwise they are under no obligation to do so." He adds that if workers ask to take the day off on 29 April, employers should treat it like any other holiday request.

Read the Mr Randall's advice piece at:

UK economy at a glance

Indicator Value Change on week Change on month Change on year

FTSE 100 6060.97 + 43.97 + 285.77 + 283.37
£ against US 1.63 + 0.02 + 0.02 + 0.09
£ against € 1.13 - 0.01 - 0.03 - 0.01
UK inflation 4.4% none + 0.4% + 1.4%
UK interest rates 0.5% none none none
* Figures are as at midday on 11 April 2011