If a service is renderable by people working in a particular industry, then why and when should government compete with those providing this service?
Take the case of industry conferences. The current situation in technology industries in the UK is that government events are very common, often very cheap or free, and nearly always in competition with or to the detriment of those in the private sector providing this service. It is quite possible now to go almost exclusively to government run conferences. This has the effect of devaluing the them along with the other, private sector events. In finance, this used to be called in the jargon: “trashing the market”.
Yes, these are sometimes outsourced back to the private sector. But the message is there to business people, academics, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and so on, that a conference or event costs nothing and is to be funded by taxpayers. So the cost of hiring the venue, the catering for lunches, dinners, breaks etc, the staff to organise the conference and the “je ne sais quoi” that goes into doing the research, having the idea, structuring and finding participants – all of that – costs nothing to those who go for the “cheap seats” of subsidised government events. Often, those events actually involve further attempts to stay away from the reality of the marketplace and actually obtain grants for research be it product or market.
Is all this healthy?
If for some unknown reason an industry cannot muster someone to step forward and set up an “industry association” and the same person or another to offer conferences and networking events etc for the industry…well… it would be a very unusual and unsociable industry.
But what if it costs too much?
What does that mean “costs too much”? Marketing is a value-creator or realiser, essential alongside innovation. Again, the providers of events find this out reasonably quickly and will make efforts to use cheaper venues, reduce on costs etc until a format is found. Different events providers will come up with different pricing matrices which in theory will enable all categories to choose which events to attend – and that will be a a useful subset of possible experiences that fits with the pocket and risk-taking & rewards obtained of the particular individual or company.
Is this really lacking across all tech sectors so that we need online social network and physical leadership from government for such, across the board?
I leave this for discussion. But a few points can be made:
1. Governments are not good at strategy, leading industries*
2. Governments are not there to run events (there are other things to do with those resources)**
3. It is more efficient and cheaper to sponsor a private sector event to encourage it
4. It is more effective to let the private sector lead its business and marketing activities***
*Why should government be any better or safer with experience services related to those industries?
So (from 3.) a key question for this blog entry is: why do government agencies run events rather than just sponsor, exhibit at and attend and learn from private sector events rather than running and outsourcing their own?
**They may need to regulate industries, but that is a different function.
***This has the benefit of allowing the private sector to lead, and has much less distortive effects on the whole service economy, and also frees up funds and resources for government to work with.