Government’s digital strategy is “operationally broke”

Second digital communities event is urgently needed but there are neither resources nor funding available, says manager

The digital strategy secretariat of the Ministry for Economic Development is operationally broke, with no relief in sight until the next Budget.

It is so broke it has no money to renew the contract of its manager, Peter Macaulay, or to replace him when his contract ends on February 16.

“We’re in a hiatus now because there is no more funding until the next Budget round,” Macaulay told Computerworld last week. “We’ve got things rolling, but we’ve now got a gap in funding and resources. Perhaps the Broadband Challenge fund could be freed up but it would be a change of use.”

The Broadband Challenge Fund has a balance of $4.6 million remaining, but that is dedicated money. So far, more than $18 million has been distributed as seed funding for partnerships to build urban fibre networks.

Macaulay says a second Digital Communities event is urgently needed but there are neither resources nor any funding available.

“The first event was one of the strongest things we’ve done,” he says.

The secretariat has a significant list of achievements, Macaulay says, including completing the first round of the Broadband Challenge. It also completed the first round of community partnerships, which focused on content, education and community support with the eventual aim of developing applications that will roll out in other digital areas.

The secretariat also helped de-silo government ICT projects and provide an over-arching link between the different departments, as well as developing a digital content strategy, now run by the National Library.

Macaulay says continuing outreach into the community will become a “big hole”, without further financial support.

Macaulay also has criticisms of the secretariat’s role and structure.

“My other role was giving the digital strategy some air. But it’s very difficult for someone out of a business environment to deliver those outcomes within a regulatory environment.

“If there were a regulatory issue, say with Telecom, I couldn’t talk to the party involved. That’s stupid,” he says.

“I spent most of last year not being able to talk to the important parties. You need to remove any operational unit from inside a regulatory environment.”

Macauley says he doesn’t know why the ministry was given the job of running a secretariat with operational responsibility.

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