Where do you go for advice?

Accountants and business advisers last week attacked the government’sy – but some experts accuse the profession of lacking vision in the guidance it gives clients about IT. IT strategy for small firms, labelling it ‘unco-ordinated and directionless’.

The attacks came as the BuyIT initiative for smaller firms – which is backed by #300,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry – published its findings on how small and medium-sized enterprises use IT (see below).

Taskforce 2000 chairman Robin Guenier questioned whether BuyIT took account of the millennium date change, for which the DTI earmarked a further #87m.

Some #30m will help train 20,000 ‘bug busters’.

Ram Goodimal, chairman of South London Business Link, called for the DTI to map all the initiatives it is running, which also include a joint Small Business Taskforce with Microsoft. ‘We need one vision,’ he added.

BuyIT is running behind schedule. An action pack for small business advisers was promised last month, but is not likely to appear before June. Rather than focusing on how to buy new systems, it will look instead at how to gain competitive advantages from IT.

‘Any collaborative project that is sensitive to the market tends to change according to needs,’ said BuyIT programme director Peter Duschinsky.

‘The survey’s findings changed the project’s priorities.’

But Peter Stuart, business development manager at Fujitsu, BuyIT’s principal sponsor, said the action pack ‘was always a concept rather than something more physical’.

He dismissed claims that the initiative was dogged by funding problems.

‘I don’t know where that has come from,’ he said. ‘Though there is confusion in the market about who is involved in which initiative.’

This sentiment is echoed by David Harvey, secretary to ACCA’s small business committee. ‘There are good schemes as well as bad, but many of them are re-inventing the wheel and don’t know what the other is doing. Half of the money is spent on marketing or goes into red tape,’ he said.

Not everyone in the profession is as negative. Teresa Graham, partner at Baker Tilly and member of the South London Business Link board, said: ‘Though there is always a danger of overlap, I have never worked with a small firms minister that has done more to understand the needs of SMEs than Barbara Roche, and I have worked with six or seven.’

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