The B.C. government has quietly shut down Leading Edge BC, absorbing its role of marketing technology around the world within the Ministry of Economic Development.
The government made no public announcement about the change, but officials of the non-profit organization were told in late May.
A brief note on Leading Edge BC’s Web site says only that “Leading Edge BC is being integrated into the Ministry of Economic Development” to continue promoting British Columbia as a “leading destination for technology” and to “maximize efforts to market the opportunities available in B.C. around the world.”
According to the note, B.C. remains committed to raising the profile of B.C.’s high-tech sector.
“(W)e anticipate a seamless transition over the coming weeks and months as these changes are implemented,” says the note.
In a December 9, 2003 press release announcing the establishment of Leading Edge BC, Premier Gordon Campbell promised $8.3 million in funding to the organization over three years to “aggressively market B.C. as an internationally competitive location for technology investment, research and job creation.”
Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen said in a July interview that the government needed to decide now whether or not to renew Leading Edge’s funding. Since Leading Edge was established, he said, the ministry has developed its own strong marketing initiative.
“Leading Edge made sense back in 2003 when we set it up,” Hansen said.
The move took some industry players by surprise.
Cindy Pearson, vice-president of the Vancouver-based B.C. Technology Industries Association, is among them.
“No advance notice with this one so, I guess, yes, it was a bit of a surprise,” Pearson said in an interview this month. “We’re looking forward to the ministry picking up some of the good work that LEBC did do.”
However, an audit conducted by the B.C. finance ministry’s internal audit division found a number of problems with Leading Edge BC, officially known as The Market Technology Society.
The audit was completed last February 6 and obtained by ITBusiness.ca under a freedom-of-information request.
The auditors report that they were unable to assess Leading Edge’s hiring practices.
According to the report, Leading Edge did not retain staff resumes and evaluations.
“We were advised that this was due to personal privacy concerns,” the report said. “In our opinion, the society likely has sufficient resources to ensure that personal records are held securely and we would recommend that resumes and evaluations of staff are held in personnel files.”
The report also says that Leading Edge had no conflict of interest policy, although the agency’s board was developing guidelines at the time of the audit.
As well, Leading Edge did not maintain proper control over its contracts, said the report.
“For example, the society expended approximately $230,000 with a communications organization in 2004-05, for public relations, advertising and creative and technical writing for a number of small projects,” it said.
But there was no competition for the work, and there was no contract, according to the audit.
The report also expressed concern about staff expenses.
One Leading Edge official was reimbursed for his expenses, up to a limit, said the report. (The size of the limit was deleted from the copy provided ITBusiness.ca.)
“There are no guidelines on this although the (official) indicated that he understood this to mean business-related entertainment and travel,” said the report.
The auditors reviewed the expenses, which were charged to the society’s Visa card, and found that they appeared to be business-related. However, there was no formal log of the business purposes of the expenses, it says.
“They should consider maintaining a log of who is being entertained, the business reason and the supplier receipt, along with a mileage log to support gas expenditures,” the report suggested.
Asked about the audit, Hansen denied that it led to the decision to close down Leading Edge BC.
However, he said his ministry acted quickly on some of its recommendations.
“We were concerned, and the deputy minister at the time took some pretty immediate action,” Hansen said.
In written comments included in the report, Hansen’s ministry agreed with most of the report’s recommendations.