For the first time in its 23 year life the National Computing Centre has seen its income decline, reporting a loss of UKP642,000 for the year to March 31. A sad state of affairs for the progeny of Harold Wilson’s white heat of the technological revolution. The Centre was set up in 1966 as a […]
For the first time in its 23 year life the National Computing Centre has seen its income decline, reporting a loss of UKP642,000 for the year to March 31. A sad state of affairs for the progeny of Harold Wilson’s white heat of the technological revolution. The Centre was set up in 1966 as a body to disseminate information, a kind of software house looking at software, but rapidly became applications-based because of its user bias, hence it was called the National Computing Centre as opposed to its original name the National Computer Centre. Until 1978 the Centre was grant-aided and government controlled, with any profit going back to government coffers in return for grants. In 1978 the Centre became a self-supporting limited company under the aegis of the Department of Trade & Industry. It is now run by a board of directors variously representing regions, companies such as IBM, ICL and Sema Group, and the government. The reason for the Centre’s current financial straits is that the Department of Trade & Industry suddenly and without warning pulled out from the funding of two contracts. Hitherto the government has regularly contracted with the Centre for around UKP5m, funding projects on a 50/50 basis. In July 1988 this figure was cut by UKP1.6m leading to 36 redundancies at the Centre. In fact this loss was partially offset by a 20% growth in the Centre’s products and services income leaving it with the UKP642,000 loss.
As regards this buoyant commercial side of the Centre’s activities which contributes around 80% of its turnover, 35% comes from software, 33% from training, 11% from consultancy, 8% from standards, 7% from publications. Approximately 4% of its income is derived from membership fees but as the Centre was set up as a service for users, it is loth to put up subscriptions which currently stand at around UKP200 per year for users and UKP2,000 per year for large manufacturers like IBM. Consequently it will have to make an increased effort to get revenues from its commercial activities, something it has already been doing successfully over the years, all of which makes its shortfall in government contracts look more like an unprovoked kicking from the government than a friendly push towards market forces. For example, its achievements over the past financial year included: winning a $50m award from ICP for its productivity software, consultancy work on over 100 projects ranging from SSADM implementation to information technology staff assessment, a contract to establish a service for testing conformance to Posix, as well as 13 other conformance testing services for open systems, and the training of 500,000 information technology professionals world-wide. Despite the contractual setbacks it has suffered from the government it is still optimistic that its ongoing partnership with the Department of Trade & Industry through both an EDI project preparing the UK for 1992 and a project to raise security awareness among information technology users will prove fruitful. Should push come to shove and the Centre become insolvent, all the monies it earns will go to the Department of Trade & Industry. It believes this scenario is unlikely, however, as it does have over UKP3m in reserves – just about enough to cover it should the government abandon all its contracts.