National Computing Centre
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2011)|
|Former type||Limited by guarantee|
|Key people||Sir A Cleaver, Sir R Cockburn, D Fairbairn OBE, P Virgo, C Pearse, J Perkins, M Gough, S Markwell|
|Services||Information, advice, education, publishing, escrow & membership services|
|Employees||500 at peak|
|Services||Information, advice, education, publishing, membership services, Consultancy, Standards|
|Owner(s)||T Ring, S Fox, K Vooght, S Markwell, S Sidhu, P Morris|
The National Computing Centre (NCC) was an independent not-for-profit membership and research organisation that went into administration before being liquidated in 2010. The name was then used as the trading name of a new company that changed its name from Redholt Limited to the National Computing Centre Limited (NCC Ltd) when its acquired the assets of NCC through a pre-pack administration arrangement. This new for-profit company, formed in 2010, initially offered some of the same the services as the original NCC but in 2012 became a shell company as it had to file for protection from its creditors and make most of its staff redundant. The status of the remaining shell company is unclear.
Formation and early years
The National Computing Centre was founded on 10 June 1966 by the Labour UK Government, as an autonomous not-for-profit organisation, in order to be the "voice of the computer user", encourage the growth of computer usage in the UK and ensure that the necessary education and training was made available. NCC was one of the visible outcomes from Harold Wilson's "White Heat of Technology" speech and the formation of a Ministry of Technology, the others being the computer company International Computers Limited (ICL) and chip maker INMOS (both now defunct).
Initially, most income came directly from government grants, but with the growth of NCC's commercial operations this ceased in 1989. During the 1970s and 1980s NCC had a joint venture with Blackwell Publishing (NCC Blackwell) which was a significant publisher of academic computing books.
Between 1989 and 1996 NCC operated with 5 main divisions - Education, Consulting, Escrow, Membership Services, and System Engineering deriving income from membership fees and its commercial activities.
In 1996, the National Computing Centre sold its overseas education business, NCC Education, to stave off a financial crisis that occurred when the company breached its borrowing limits.
MBO, NCC Services Ltd and NCC Group plc
In 1999, it sold its commercial divisions (turnover of less than £10m), which provided Escrow, Consultancy, System Engineering services to its existing management team supported by ECI ventures for £5m. This new company was named NCC Services Limited and later became NCC Group Limited  of which the National Computing Centre held a 20% share. John Perkins became the new Managing Director of National Computing Centre, which remained a not-for-profit membership organisation.
The NCC Services Ltd management team of Managing Director Chris Pearse and directors John Morris, Peter Bird, and Chris Sadler was strengthened in March 2000 by the appointment of Rob Cotton as Finance Director and who also took over control of the Escrow division in May of that year, with Morris leaving at that time. Following a substantial fall off of revenues as Y2K came and passed, and due to the failure of the company before this date to invest in its general consultancy, security, system engineering and escrow business during the Y2k period, the Group began to make monthly losses before the benefits of the changes to the Escrow business instigated by Rob Cotton were felt and the company returned to profitability.
Renamed NCC Group, in May 2000, and with Escrow now the cornerstone of the Group, Rob Cotton led a secondary management buy-out in 2003 valuing NCC Group at £30m and supported by Barclays Private Equity. At this point, the National Computing Centre sold its shares in NCC Group as did Pearse, Bird and Sadler who left the business. The NCC Group floated on the AIM stock market in 2004 for £55m raising nearly £40m of new money. Since then through a number of successful acquisitions and effective management, the Group, by now fully a listed company on the London Stock Exchange since 2007, has grown to a market capitalisation of nearly £300m. The NCC Group now only provides global Escrow and Security services to over 15,000 customers including 94 of the FTSE 100.
NCC received substantial proceeds from the sale of NCC Group Limited (circa £11M between 2000 and 2003 plus dividends) and from the multi-million sale of its iconic Manchester city centre buildings (Oxford House and Armstrong House) to Bruntwood Group (now the home of NCC Group plc). Following the retirement of Perkins, Michael Gough was appointed as CEO in 2000 and NCC pursued a new strategy of rapidly developing and expanding its membership services by acquisition.
In 2002 NCC adopted a policy of vigorous support for Open Source Software.
Over the six years from 2000, and particularly after the second sale of its shares in NCC Group in 2003, acquisitions accelerated until all of the company's funds had been used to acquire a number of related companies, membership organisations, publications, publishing rights and to fund joint ventures. The acquisitions included: Management Consultancy News; Conspectus; CIO Connect; The Construction Industry Computing Association; Certus; The Evaluation Centre; Institute of IT Training; The Impact Programme; and PMP. Publishing rights acquired included the Naked Leader and joint ventures included: the NCC/Ashridge Business School MBA; NCC/AQA Applied ICT; and ProfIT.
Funds were also spent on a major refurbishment of offices in Manchester, developing a quickly redundant hosting centre and leasing opulent offices in London, all of which was entirely inappropriate for an organisation of this size. Additionally, attempts were made at developing new products and services including The Open Source Academy, The Evaluation Centre and NCC Midas Web Hosting. All were costly and ill conceived, the later being a hosting option that only offered support 5 days a week and during working hours.
There was also an expensive re-branding exercise in which NCC re-branded as Principia, a brand that was shortly after dropped and the NCC brand resumed, a move that seemed to echo a similarly named and equally disastrous re-branding of the UK Royal Mail to Consignia.
The strategy initiated and implemented by Michael Gough totally failed and the National Computing Centre diminished rapidly in size and turnover. With the many millions received now spent, NCC continued to make unsustainable losses but there was no change in strategic direction. By 2007 to stem the losses NCC was forced to rapidly close or dispose of many of the acquisitions at a vast loss to the organisation as well as to close a number of only recently established operations. Michael Gough was dismissed from the business in February 2008 as a consequence.
In March 2008, Steve Markwell was appointed as Chief Executive but there was no improvement in the company's fortunes or significant change in strategic direction. The only significant asset remaining, Filetab, was transferred in 2009 to a new company called NCC Filetab whose Managing Director was also Managing Director of NCC. With losses and the size of the pension fund deficit increasing, the company was unable to meet its obligations and was placed into administration by its management.
The NCC had been run for its members since 1966 and throughout had a non executive board overseeing the actions of the Executives. It remains a mystery as to what governance arrangements were actually in place that allowed the management under Michael Gough to waste so many millions of pounds on such an ill-conceived strategy and vanity acquisitions whilst not addressing the vast and increasing pension fund deficit or safeguarding the organisations future.
Administration, liquidation and pre-pack
In February 2010, NCC went into administration and ultimately liquidation. The few remaining assets and intellectual property rights were transferred in a "pre-pack" administration arrangement to Redholt Ltd a new private company, thus distancing the new company from the NCC creditors, which included a substantial pension fund liability resulting in the insolvency of the pension fund later that year. Redholt Ltd was owned by a group of six shareholders, including former managers and two Directors of the insolvent National Computing Centre
Redholt Ltd, was renamed as The National Computing Centre Limited (NCC Ltd) in Feb 2011. In 2011 NCC Ltd extended its portfolio of services to include IT consulting, mainly as a virtual organisation through the use of independent associate consultants.
The 'new' NCC Ltd was not a mutual not-for-profit organisation, but retained some of the member organisations of the liquidated company and initially it delivered some of the same products and services but is now a shell company operating a website with minimal business content .
By the end of 2011, the 'new' NCC Ltd once again faced financial difficulties and in 2012 it sought voluntary arrangements with its creditors to step away from its debts. The company had run up substantial losses, had not paid suppliers and had not filed accounts. Nearly all staff were laid off and the business having already left its iconic building in 2010 it finally left Manchester. The company was formally recorded at UK Companies House as being insolvent and in a voluntary arrangement as of the 2nd March 2012. The insolvency practitioner dealing with the companies affairs is Wilkins Kennedy of London. NCC Ltd is no longer recognised by any trade body, association or any part of Government as the "voice of the computer user". The company's fall from grace now means that the voice of the UK computer user is more widely represented by larger, independent, not for profit organisations such the BCS, SOCITM, ASSIST, etc.
As of August 2012, the organisation is registered as being run from a private property in Aston Abbotts, Buckinghamshire, but occasionally lists a Bournemouth telephone number on its website. It is unclear from the NCC Ltd website who owns, operates or works for the company, nor is it clear which legal entity operates the site. The NCC Ltd website is updated monthly with a generic syndicated news feed but its Facebook page was last updated in November 2011. It would appear that NCC Ltd offers no substantial services to its client base and is now a shell company. As of November 2012 the NCC Ltd website announced another return to consulting with a NCC branded service being delivered by Arawak Consulting, who claim to provide "professional management consulting for government, non-profit, and private-sector clients based on the principles of God's Living Word: our Lord Jesus Christ; and God's Written Word, the Holy Bible."
It is perhaps appropriate to reflect that the final legacy of the "white heat of technology" is now only carried on by NCC Group plc.
- "...the NCC survived initially thanks to Filetab, a ground-breaking piece of interoperable report generating software it developed for mainframes...", ComputerWeekly.com