In this section you can read the summary findings of our systematic review of business advice. We have also created a policy design toolkit to help you to make informed decisions when developing business advice policy. Each policy design guide covers a specific aspect of programme delivery. Go to the toolkit.
The review considered almost 700 policy evaluations and evidence reviews from the UK and other OECD countries. It found 23 impact evaluations that met the Centre's minimum standards. Overall, of the 23 evaluations reviewed, 14 found positive programme impacts on at least one business outcome. Five evaluations found that business advice didn’t work (had no statistically significant effects on any outcomes) and the remaining studies report largely mixed findings across various outcomes.
What the Evidence Showed
- Business advice had a positive impact on at least one business outcome in 14 out of 23 evaluations.
- Business advice programmes show somewhat better results for sales than they do for employment and productivity, but results are generally mixed.
- Programmes which used a hands-on, ‘managed brokerage’ approach may perform better than those using a light touch approach (although this conclusion is based on only one comparison study). Taken at face value, this suggests that a strong relationship and a high level of trust between advisor and client may be important to the delivery of positive programme outcomes. It is not clear, however, which of these two approaches is more cost-effective.
Where the evidence was inconclusive
- In most cases, programmes had vague or multiple objectives, which makes measuring success difficult.
- We find no strong differences in results between programmes with multiple objectives and programmes with more focused objectives.
- We found no evidence that would suggest one level of delivery – national or local – is more effective than another.
- It is difficult to reach any conclusions about the effectiveness of public-led vs. private-led delivery.
- Overall, it is difficult to reach any strong conclusions on the link between specific programme features and better firm outcomes.
Where there was lack of evidence
- There is insufficient evidence to establish the effectiveness of sector specific programmes compared to more general programmes.
- We found no high quality impact evaluations that explicitly look at the outcomes for female-headed or BME businesses.
- We found two high-quality evaluations of programmes aimed at incubating start-ups. Both programmes were targeted at unemployed people and show mixed results overall. However, there is a lack of impact evaluation for Dragons’ Den-type accelerator programmes that aim to launch high-growth businesses and involve competitive entry.
Below are some key points for policymakers to consider. You can also learn about our methodology and how to get the most out of our reviews by reading our guide.
- Develop clear objectives to evaluate business advice, ensuring they can be measured properly, including their cost-effectiveness.
- In the short-term, business advice leads to consistent gains in productivity, rather than employment.
- Encouraging a ‘hands on’ approach though strong relationships in business advice delivery can lead to better outcomes.
- There is no clear difference in success rates of policies delivered either locally or nationally, or those led by the public or private sector.
- Understanding what works in business advice can be unclear because of frequent changes in policy.