Belfast Telegraph

Agency set to lose role as start-up programme provider

By Clare Weir

A Northern Ireland agency which has delivered one of the country's most successful business start-up programmes is set to lose the role after two decades.

And the popular Invest NI 'Go For It' is also due for a shake-up.

In a shock move, Enterprise NI is likely to be replaced by a consortium including the local offices of accountancy firm KPMG and Scottish-based GO Group in the provision of the renowned scheme.

Invest NI said that the new group, despite having an interest in Glasgow, still plans to deliver the programme through a network of Northern Ireland accountancy and consultancy businesses.

Enterprise NI has acted as lead contractor on national contracts including the Go For It Programme, Exploring Enterprise, the Social Entrepreneurship Programme, TradeLinks and the Small Business Loan Fund, distributing work to over 20 smaller agencies. There are now fears that jobs at Enterprise NI may be lost.

A spokeswoman for Invest NI said that the move is subject to a ten-day 'cooling off' period.

"Following a fully transparent public tender process, the most economically advantageous tender submitted for Invest NI's new business start programme was identified," she said.

"The successful bidder is a consortium comprising the local offices of KPMG and the Scottish based GO Group, which plans to deliver the programme through a network of Northern Ireland accountancy and consultancy firms.

"The Central Procurement Directorate has notified all bidders of the intent to award the contract to the above consortium."

The programme will also see some changes and a new name.

The Go For It programme offered start-ups a business adviser, a personalised training plan, additional support for women, minority groups and community enterprises and helped identify sources of funding.

Previously lasting six weeks, the new scheme will comprise three stages - an hour of advice from a business adviser, a full day workshop on financial business planning and a two-hour business advisory session.

In a confidential document seen by the Belfast Telegraph, it has emerged that despite delivering the scheme for over 20 years, Enterprise NI received a score of 66.3 in the tender evaluation compared to 84.8 awarded to the winning bidder and was ranked second out of a shortlist of three.

Enterprise NI was unavailable for comment.