Businesses in Birmingham are drowning in a sea of complex council and Government-backed support organisations, a major report has claimed.
Firms seeking advice about innovation and product improvement have 55 different initiatives to choose from and 29 separate delivery bodies.
The study, by the Centre for Cities research group, criticises the public sector for being too narrowly focused on science and technology, often creating business and support services which overlapped.
And while the Government’s Science City initiative is said to have had a “catalytic effect” and positive impact on partnership working in Birmingham, in Manchester it has been “more of an awkward add-on to what was already in place”.
Other Science Cities, including York and Nottingham, have seen little gain from the designation, the study found.
The report – Innovation, Science and the City – suggests that links between Birmingham’s universities and the business community are not always easy to understand for firms wishing to tap into expert advice.
The document warns: “It is probably not necessary to have six separate organisations offering access to the university base. Why, for example, do there need to be two university-managed business portals – the West Midlands Technology Network and Contact KE?
“Birmingham’s Science City project has had some positive partnership effects, but there is more work to do in terms of co-ordinating the support offer for local businesses.
“Another issue is the project’s comparatively low profile in policy debates, possibly reflecting uncertainty about where it fits into the city’s wider economic development plans.”
The study urges cities to “get back to basics” by concentrating on improving transport links, speeding up planning decisions and improving housing in an effort to attract and retain innovative businesses and workers.
The best way to support innovation is to make the city as a whole a more attractive place to do business, the report suggests.
The report criticised high house prices in cities such as Cambridge, Bristol and York and slow planning procedures which it said had delayed investment.
Hannah Brown, research manager at the Centre for Cities said: “Even at a time of economic uncertainty, innovation is a key ingredient for business growth, but supporting innovation in Britain’s cities isn’t about gimmicky policy initiatives or niche business schemes.
“Instead, cities need to get the basics right - delivering good transport, better housing and faster planning decisions - to help businesses to innovate and compete. A better business environment in our cities will help the next James Dyson or Anita Roddick emerge.”
The report recommends that:
• Cities and national Government need to deliver the right housing stock, better transport links and speedier planning processes to attract and keep innovative businesses and workers.
• National, regional and city Governments need to further rationalise an already crowded collection of existing innovation and business support services to better support innovation in cities like Birmingham.
• Whitehall should drop plans for new partnerships for innovation, which would add to the complexity.
• The Government should let the six Science Cities themselves decide what to do with their Science City status – including dropping the brand altogether if they see fit.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Jerry Blackett said he was not surprised by the report’s findings.
Mr Blackett said there were about 3,000 schemes across the country that businesses in the West Midlands could use, but these were being amalgamated into about 30 as part of the Government’s Business Simplification Project.
Likening the map of agencies to “the wiring plan of a jumbo jet”, Mr Blackett added: “All of these individual projects have some merit, but it is just too confusing at the moment and difficult for businesses to work out what is best for them.”
He said the aim was to develop the Business Link service as a one-stop shop for inquiries.