Boys from the Black Stuff

I counted six men standing by the Police car on the hard shoulder. Whether there were anymore unexpected passengers inside the French truck I couldn’t tell, as my Harley Davidson, with noisy indifference, thundered past the little group on the way down to my home in North Kent.

Four hundred yards from my window overlooking the sea there’s a long patch of rough grass under the cliff. At the moment, living in three cheap ‘bell’ tents, surrounded by cardboard boxes, there’s a family with two children. Whether they know about the £3 billion that the Chancellor is making available for Government IT projects is irrelevant because, I would guess that as a group, they lie as far as its possible to go on the wrong side of the ‘Digital Divide’ without actually falling into the sea in front of their pathetic home.

On Friday last, one of our readers telephoned me to ask if I might be hiring IT people. “Sorry” I said, “I can’t think of anyone who is at the moment, quite the opposite in fact”.

He replied: “Well I survived the recession of 1991 and with luck, I’ll survive this one but it’s strange that it seems to be kept so quiet, the recession that is”.

So what’s my point? The men in the back of that truck want work and I’m sure that the father of the two small children on the seafront does as well. And our reader? Well he’s had it, lost it and is looking for it again.

If you listen to Government, then IT skills are the way to guarantee your future. Certainly, we all need to know how to use a PC and the Internet and VCR and Sky Television remote but those aren’t true IT skills and even if you have ‘real’ technology skills, finding and keeping a job isn’t as easy as it was ten years ago.

What will the result be, I wonder when the £3 billion has been spent and perhaps another £3 billion is granted on top before the next election – public sector projects invariably overrun - . We will have built our IT equivalent of the Dome and then what? As a nation, – and I don’t just mean Greater London - will we suddenly become a knowledge economy where the trains run on time? When the efficiencies promised by Oracle or Microsoft or Sun, finally transform the public sector, where will all the people go and where will all the jobs be? In IT? Somehow, I don’t think so.

From where I sit, as cynical as you might expect, I see an IT sector which is thinning out dramatically and a manufacturing sector which is dying on its feet. Somewhere in between lies the grand promise of a future place in the evolving knowledge economy and throwing money at huge public-sector IT projects is supposed to jump-start the process.

But like the child in the fairytale of “The King’s New Clothes’, I have an awkward question. Has anyone given any sensible thought to what happens, if like the Dome, the great plan swallows the money and the result is an expensive disappointment? And what is a job in the Knowledge Economy anyway and how well does it translate into Albanian?

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