$15bn ICT industry doesn’t need govt ‘benefit’, says blogger

But ICT-NZ head Garth Biggs says ICT is not a rich industry and the total turnover figure is misleading

New IT industry body ICT-NZ has come under fire for applying for a government “benefit”.

Blogger Bruce Simpson took the body to task last week, comparing the $15 billion industry lining up for taxpayer funding to “Theresa Gattung applying for a WINZ benefit”.

“Apparently… ICT-NZ is to get a fistful of taxpayer dollars because it is unable to meet its own operating costs,” Simpson complains on his Aardvark blog. “This is despite levying its members up to $20,000 a year in fees. Something doesn’t quite seem right here.

“A $15 billion industry shouldn’t need cash to get its association started,” Simpson writes, especially when the planned association will charge its corporate members up to $20,000 each.

“Isn’t a $15 billion industry lining up for taxpayer funding, in order to create a representative body, somewhat akin to [former Telecom chief executive] Theresa Gattung applying for a WINZ benefit?” he asks.

However, ICT-NZ head Garth Biggs says ICT is not a rich industry and the total turnover figure is misleading.

“We’re an industry that consists of between six and 20 large companies and 8,000 struggling small ventures — small either because they’re entrepreneurial or because they want to stay small.”

The ICT industry is “no different from the biotech or organics industries, which have already received funding.”

Meanwhile, existing ICT associations, such as the NZ Computer Society and InternetNZ, are still undecided about joining ICT-NZ, with the former debating the alternative idea of a looser “federation” of associations, in which the various bodies would keep more of their individual identity than is envisaged under the ICT-NZ plan.

InternetNZ’s executive director, Keith Davidson, who sits on the ICT-NZ board, says he feels caught between tow positions. From an InternetNZ perspective, he is pleased at the prospect of government backing, he says. Davidson says ICT-NZ has suffered from lack of funding, but he says it also needs to sell itself better, to provide other ICT bodies with a compelling reason to join. With funding likely, InternetNZ will “probably eventually join in some way,” Davidson says.

Don Robertson, whose is in charge of the NZ Computer Society’s deliberation process regarding membership, says the society knew back in February that government funding was likely but not definite “and it seems that situation hasn’t changed”.

If funding were confirmed it would be “one box to tick that was missing when we last considered the question,” he says. “But, we’ll still have to go through the process we’ve set out [to reach a decision].”

However, Biggs is confident funding discussions will progress. He says negotiations have to take place before the funding, or the form it will take, are confirmed.

He says ICT-NZ is “not looking for a handout forever”, but he isn’t sure whether there will be any provision for paying the money back.

“I’ve not been through the terms and conditions yet,” he told Computerworld last week. Likewise, he can’t say how much money ICT-NZ might get. “It is enough,” he says.

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