Something very strange is going on. We all know that IT lies at the heart of most of the most creative social and business changes around today, but why has the government labelled IT a creative industry?
Why, suddenly do large parts the UK’s IT industry now come under the aegis of Westminster’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport?
IT companies are generous sponsors of the arts and sport. The media is one of the most IT intensive industries around. The games industry is a major employer and one of the UK’s real success stories, but this is an inadequate explanation for a government move that has been made on the quiet.
Veteran industry watcher Richard Holway says the move is a land grab by the DCMS and that it fragments government responsibility for IT. He's right. It may make for nice headlines for ministers, but it could have very damaging consequences for the UK’s IT industry, the industries that depend on IT and the skills of the UK workforce.
There should be a single ministry should be responsible for the IT industry and it should be the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, its traditional home.
Ministerial manoeuvres and Whitehall turf wars do matter to our industry and the IT professionals at the heart of the UK’s economy and public sector. Grabbing the ‘best bits’ of the industry for one department or another actually means disguising the real state of UK ICT and making it harder to deliver change.
Despite repeated pledges from ministers that the UK is going to lead the world in e-commerce, in e-government and in cutting red tape from IT procurement, there are real challenges in turning rhetoric into reality.
Enterprises face skills shortages, while our schools and colleges struggle to turn out students with anything approaching useful ICT skills. The ICT apprenticeships announced by a handful of major firms to fill the gap are welcome, but a drop in the ocean.
The government itself still can’t deliver major IT programmes. Nothing seems to have improved since the millennium.
The UK IT sector itself scarcely grew by two percent last year. Some of this disappointing lack of growth is due to the deflationary impact of cloud services and public sector belt tightening on outsourcing contracts, but two percent growth is an issue. It should not be disguised with glowing headlines proclaiming success in one part of the industry and disguising structural weaknesses across the sector as a whole.
That's not all. Richard Holway picked apart some of the stupidity behind the government’s move.
- Telecomms directors are now classed as Creative but all their engineers are not.
- IT Directors are now Creative but their Project & Programme managers are not.
- Programmers are now Creative but their Managers are not.
- Business Software Development and Computer Consultancy are now Creative but IT outsourcing is not.
- All important Cloud datacentres are not creative.
All this may guarantee good headlines for ministers but it does very little else.
If IT is central to the UK economy, and it is, then it is time to stop using the industry and IT professionals as sources of cheap headlines (Tech City anyone?), as scapegoats and as political footballs. It is time to start looking at the real issues we face. That means facing facts, not cherry-picking convenient statistics to fuel a political PR machine.