It would appear that every page of every newspaper is filled with doom and gloom of recession, with the UK now experiencing the highest rate of unemployment in 16 years, and another 50 thousand Scots expected to lose their jobs over the next 2 years. The construction industry was one of the first hit, something we experienced firsthand as a result of so much of our work being connected to property marketing. A large part of our company’s income has come from the US property market which meant we felt the decline ahead of most of our British peers, and we acted to limit our exposure to the looming downturn.

I run the digital arm of a branding consultancy, and based on the success of our software application development we took the advice of many business experts and decided that focusing on innovation would help us ride out the storm. In the past I have done work for companies who have received grants from Scottish Enterprise to help with their marketing, so I spent some time reading through the many well written pages on their site to see if they could help us too.

I found they offer Research & Development grants that really seemed to fit the bill.

It can be tough to find the necessary backing to fund costly and often lengthy research and development. But in today’s market R&D is more important than ever if firms are to compete effectively.

The R&D Grant supports businesses developing new products, processes and services to improve company competitiveness and to benefit the Scottish economy.

This sounded ideal so I filled in the form to have someone contact me with advice on how to move things forward. I was finally starting to really understand the value of Scottish Enterprise handing out grants, as I saw a clear path through innovation to us hiring a few more developers whose wages would be primarily being paid for by US companies, bringing money into the Scottish economy.

A week went past, and then a month and I still hadn’t heard so much as a whisper from the lovely people at Scottish Enterprise.

A week went past, and then a month and I still hadn’t heard so much as a whisper from the lovely people at Scottish Enterprise. I was really disheartened but just put my head down with my team to do what we could with our existing resources.

But then I finally received a response regarding my request for advice in the form of an email on October 17th 2008.

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Talk about adding insult to injury! I had gone from mildly disappointed over their apparent disinterest, to full blown rage at their absolute incompetence. I filled out the survey and pulled no punches. I made it very clear how disgusted I was with their complete lack of service and in the box where they asked for my contact details I made it very clear that I wanted to hear from them and gave multiple means to get in touch.

As the rage subsided I realised that I had over reacted

As the rage subsided I realised that I had over reacted and some poor peep was going to have to read my rant and then call me to explain that I had now blown any chances of an R&D grant. I was wrong though, as I heard nothing at all from them, which led me to believe that none of this is some conspiracy to hold me back, and it isn’t down to institutional incompetence, but instead it was a simple I.T. problem where they weren’t getting messages sent through their websites.

But a couple of weeks ago I needed to call Scottish Enterprise about another matter and the nice lady that took my call asked if I had been in touch with them before so that she could look up my contact details. I explained I had tried to get in touch but my request hadn’t got through. She looked me up and surprised me by explaining that they had received my original request and had passed it on to someone. She apologised and said she’d chase it up for me. “Thank goodness for the good old phone” I thought, looking forward to finally getting some advice.

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since that call and I still haven’t heard anything.

But it gets worse.

Much worse.

With the collapse of banks and other financial institutions in the western world, we decided that we would investigate the middle eastern market, where we heard there was still a lot of building going on and typically with high inventories, which suits the software we’ve developed perfectly. Everyone kept telling us to go to Dubai and Abu Dhabi so at the end of October 2008 we began planning our trip.

My MD, Mark Noë discovered that Scottish Enterprise offer specific help and advice to Scottish companies looking to work in the UAE and so he contacted them, and when they didn’t get back to him he contacted them again. This week he’s phoned them several times and still nobody has got back to him.

we spent last week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi with zero financial help and zero business introductions from Scottish Enterprise

So we spent last week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi with zero financial help and zero business introductions from Scottish Enterprise. These are lean times and the couple of thousand pounds it cost us to make the trip happen mean a lot to us.

But the trip itself was amazing. Primarily through Mark’s persistent cold calling genius we managed to get meetings with some of the biggest players in the Emirates and their response to our software was phenomenal! Every single marketeer that we met was super sharp, very experienced, open to suggestion, and understands the value of innovation. We’re even heading back out on Saturday for another week of meetings where we’ll hopefully close a couple of deals. It’s too early to say but it looks like we are going to have to staff up if things go according to plan, and I am really looking forward to working with these new clients.

But here’s the thing. We could be looking at hiring anything between 20 and 50 people next year. In order to service this business we will open an office in the Emirates with at least a project manager, but I now kind of grudge hiring the remainder into our Glasgow office after being ignored so badly by the very government agencies set up to help us. Instead we could hire 50 just as talented people and base them in the UAE, where incidentally they would pay no tax on their wages.

Think what Scotland would miss out on. 50 jobs earning an average of £40k – that’s £2 million per year of which the government would get about £650k in taxes, and about £500k would be spent on clothes, video games, beer, cars, restaurants – in Scotland.

There’s a higher chance of failure without our government’s help, but we won’t let them stop us.

I’m not so naive that I don’t realise that this would be a tiny drop in an ocean of financial doom, but the thing to understand is that all we really want to help this happen is a few grand to cover flights and accommodation for a couple of trips, and maybe a couple of introductions.

We’re going to do it anyway. It carries more risk and we won’t do it as fast as we might of. There’s a higher chance of failure without our government’s help, but we won’t let them stop us. But how many other companies out there can’t afford the trip, or don’t have the brass neck to make the cold calls when they get there? How many missed opportunities are there right now.

It’s a fucking disgrace.

Note. I have used the name Scottish Enterprise very liberally here as they have been our initial (and only) point of contact. I’m aware that other organisations such as Business Gateway and DTI may be responsible, but to me this is a technicality.