The recently published White Paper on Information Technology looks a little weak on strategy, making the pronouncement that Lord Young is a personal computer user appear to be the main promotion of information technology that the UK government is prepared to make at present. As reported on Friday the government does not now believe that […]
The recently published White Paper on Information Technology looks a little weak on strategy, making the pronouncement that Lord Young is a personal computer user appear to be the main promotion of information technology that the UK government is prepared to make at present. As reported on Friday the government does not now believe that information technology should be dealt with at Minister of State level within the Department of Trade & Industry; nor does it think public procurement should be used as a policy instrument to pull through technology. It feels that the Department is already successful in putting across key messages in the public sector concerning technology transfer and standards. However, the government does pledge the improvement of its procurement procedures through tighter shortlisting of suppliers and the reduction of requirements for benchmarks and demonstrations, and expects its spending on information technology (which has doubled over the past two financial years to UKP200m) to continue to grow, with at least 33% of systems development and computer operations by the mid-1990s being performed by the private sector. The government is also supporting a variety of information technology projects involving: the provision of UKP41m over three years for information technology transfer and support for information technology standards; UKP6m for the introduction of new technology into schools in addition to UKP30m under the IT in Schools initiative; and UKP100m for the Department of Trade & Industry’s and the Science & Engineering Research Council’s research and development programme. But the government will not realign the the roles of the Department of Trade & Industry and the Central Computer & Telecommunications Agency, and is instead to set up a committee to formalise existing links between the two bodies. Mystery of clause 16 Those perusing the White Paper for a clearer statement of government policy on a national communications network will also be disappointed as no such statement is made. Most intriguing of all, however, is the government’s response to the Select Committee’s recommendations concerning small businesses. The response begins in familiar vein: the government will not raise the maximum funding of research projects involving small firms and academic institutions to 75% from 50%; yet clause 16 of chapter six to which the reader is referred for a government statement of intent on tax incentives both for small firms to invest in research, and for all firms to donate hardware and software to educational institutions cannot be found. It is, in short, missing. (Possibly, the Department of Trade & Industry felt that small firms were having encouragement enough from its recently launched 1989 competition for the Small Firms Merit Awards for Research and Technology, which states that from a fund of UKP29m the 150 winners of the awards will gain finance for potentially viable commercial projects.) On the whole, the White Paper’s message is that the government will not support a more centralised approach to information technology; that market forces must determine the success or failure of current research breakthroughs; and, above all, that the computer industry is mature enough to stand on its own two feet without holding the government’s hand. The Government’s Response to the First Report of the House of Commons Trade & Industry Committee is UKP4.80 from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.