DCMS land-grab is a threat to IT's political and economic future

The IT industry’s vital role in the UK economy is under threat from what appears to be a desperate attempt by a Whitehall department to avoid being cut back or even scrapped in chancellor George Osborne’s forthcoming spending review.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has quietly issued a consultation on a seemingly very dry and uninteresting topic – the industrial and occupational classifications that determine what constitutes a creative profession.

This is all about SIC codes and their ilk – the standard classifications used by government and other agencies to pigeon-hole job roles and companies into the right sector for statistical analysis by the likes of the Office for National Statistics.

So far, so dull.

But in a bizarre land-grab to redefine whole sections of the economy as being “creative industries”, the consultation proposes to reclassify more than half of the IT industry as “creative”, thereby reducing the remainder of the official classification of the IT and telecoms sector to less than half its current size – and hence half its current economic contribution.

Thanks to e-Skills UK, the tech sector skills council whose briefing paper brought this issue to Computer Weekly’s attention.

According to DCMS, the proposal is justified because, “The ‘creative intensity’ approach leads to the introduction of a number of software and IT industries since the ‘digital creative’ parts of these sectors can now be better identified… Adoption of the ‘creative intensity’ approach provides a rationale for their inclusion and the current view supported by industry and partners is that these activities are vital to the Creative Industries.”

The split would produce some absurd anomalies. For example, IT directors would be reclassified as a creative occupation. But the IT managers, project managers and technical staff that work for them would remain classified under IT.

Business analysts, architects and software developers would also become creative professions, not IT jobs.

Such a move would take 445,000 people out of the official designation of the UK IT profession, reducing the size and influence of the official IT occupation, as follows:

As e-Skills points out, the DCMS proposals could also lead to some ridiculous reclassifications of IT companies.

For example, Microsoft or Oracle – as software suppliers – presumably become part of the creative industries instead. While Dell or Cisco – predominantly hardware – stay as IT.

What about IBM – a major software producer and a large hardware company. IT or creative? Or do half its employees move into creative and the rest stay in IT?

It’s a completely ludicrous situation, so why would DCMS even consider it?

It can only be an attempt at a land-grab to protect or increase the department’s budget. The bigger the “creative industries”, the more cash (and the less austerity cuts) goes to DCMS.

There are even rumours around Whitehall that the future of DCMS is in question – it may be scrapped and its functions merged into other departments as part of the spending review cuts.

Of course, if you can show that the creative industries for which you are responsible are growing so quickly and a much bigger part of the economy than you realised – thanks to those dull but lovely SIC codes – it makes it harder to justify that decision.

Does it really matter though, for people and companies in IT? Well, yes.

A much-reduced rump of workers and businesses classified as IT makes a much-reduced contribution to GDP. It becomes less strategic to UK economic recovery, receives less focus, less cash, less ministerial and political attention all round.

Meanwhile, those employees and employers now reclassified as “creative” get affected by policies that are designed to support actual creative industries, such as music, movies, arts and crafts, architects, town planners, dancers and choreographers.

It’s all very well to say that IT directors need to be more creative, it’s not the same to classify them as such. Only 3% of IT professionals actually work in the UK creative industries today. But at least in future those reclassified CIOs would benefit from any new tax breaks on ballet shoes.

Computer Weekly has pointed out the government’s ignorance of IT, technology and digital and its fundamental role in the future of how we live and work. It’s bad enough that so little is done to give strong economic and political support to the UK IT profession, but cleaving the sector in two will guarantee its dismissal to the margins of government policy.

The DCMS consultation concludes on Friday 14th June – if you agree that this proposal is the huge threat to the IT sector that it first appears, please respond to that consultation while you can.

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