Reading through the latest Government report on the state of the nation, as I did this last week end, I was struck by a couple of things.
One was the tone and style of the document.
Gone was the dry as a bone, “wade through treacle”, type report that we have come to expect from Government departments, and in its place was a refreshingly clear and well researched piece which, in spite of its length at some 230 odd pages, was both engaging and interesting.
From the cartoon of its author, “Tarzan” Heseltine leaving “no stone unturned In Pursuit of Growth to the youthful and honest language from Heseltine who set the scene by describing his own background in business with – “We made mistakes, bad judgements and were over confident. Fortunately the good judgements outweighed the bad. Cash was always tight…” of which I could relate.
Beyond that, three key things stood out for me:
- Role of trade associations and other business networking associations – Heseltine argued that these organisations could play a much more important role in helping to develop business in the UK, whilst also providing an important bridge between business and government. I wasn’t surprised by the apathetic take up of chamber membership in the UK, which at 104k is a fraction of the 3.6m admittedly compulsory members in Germany, as I’ve struggled to see what value they add to companies like mine over and above general training or support for export services. On the other hand, we get tremendous value from our membership of Intellect, which representing the IT industry, is a lot more specific in addressing our needs.
- Educating civil servants – most civil servants have little or no experience of working in industry, they don’t understand its requirements and how they operate. The suggestion that they should work more closely with business and adopt a more professional consistent approach in procurement would be welcome. I would also suggest that government takes a look at the experience and turnover of members of its own Cabinet. The lack of background experience in the IT industry in the Cabinet is laughable and largely boils down to discussions of silicon and roundabouts. Having Ministers who are better briefed and interested in their portfolios and who stay around long enough to see policy initiatives through from start to finish, would be helpful.
- Directing government expenditure – the US has been very adept, according to the report, at channelling government expenditure to both SME’s and to those areas that it considers to be of strategic importance. They operate this through The US Small Business Innovation Research Programme, which issues over $2bn in contracts annually and has been behind the success of companies like Qualcomm and Symantec. UK Government IT procurement, on the other hand, has been disjointed and largely channelled towards very large systems integrators whose top 10 suppliers have averaged over 90% of the £3bn annual IT spend. Until government can find a more effective way of working with SME’s, this will always remain the case.
As someone who is fairly cynical of the regular stream of hollow promises from government to fix things that are never backed up by firm action, it seemed to be at least a step in the right direction.
Recognising that things aren’t perfect is encouraging and looking beyond your own borders for solutions, is never a bad idea.
I look forward to seeing some of the ideas put into practice.