A leading accountancy campaign group has mounted a savage attack on the Business Link advisory service.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants says Business Link needs to be marketed better and its remit drastically changed.

The call comes in ACCA's response to the Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform's consultation exercise on simplifying business support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

It comes just months after Business Link in the West Midlands was reorganised in a deeply troubled shake-up by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.

There is little love lost between accountants and Business Link because both are in effect competing for clients.

Professor Robin Jarvis, head of ACCA's small business unit, said: "Low awareness rates of Business Link's work, the lack of relevance to small businesses of support services and a complex and schizophrenic SME support structure is preventing business from getting the support they need and deserve.

"As the simplification programme develops, ACCA wants the Government to analyse carefully whether Business Link should continue to offer such specialist services which are currently more effectively provided by the private sector."

ACCA says this is especially important given the low take-up of Business Link's services - it cites the Government's own annual survey from two years ago which, it said, showed that only one per cent of SMEs sought advice or information from Business Link when starting up or taking over a business.

Instead, ACCA wants to see Business Link develop as the authoritative source of information for business on regulatory compliance, business law, employment law and other aspects of trade where small businesses need to be in direct contact with Government.

Professor Jarvis added: "Business Link must not duplicate existing services - they should primarily be information providers and secondly they need to fill the few support gaps in private sector provision.

"We have recommended that the emphasis currently placed on business advice should be replaced with information provision and brokerage which would clarify Business Link's role and more importantly, their identity."

To create a stable and lasting legacy, ACCA says Business Link must be managed more effectively by the Government and this must involve regular consultation with private sector intermediaries.

Professor Jarvis said: "Unless the Government makes full use of the private sector in promoting the new support model for SMEs, as well as in communicating with small businesses more generally, then the estimated £2.5 billion spent annually on direct business support will not deliver value for money."

It is the second critique of business support services in two days.

On Monday Birmingham Chamber of Commerce said persistent changes to publicly funded business support had led to uncertainty, confusion and a loss of trust in the system. It called for a long-term plan to provide greater confidence.