The industry body for local government IT managers has lambasted Whitehall's new IT strategy, accusing the government of focusing on cutting costs instead of improving services.
Socitm said that instead of the aim of cutting costs by £3.2 billion a year, "much higher savings are achievable through better ICT deployment", because it would improve the efficiency of public services. The government’s strategy, announced last month, was “disappointing”, it said.
Reducing technology costs was vital in the recession, Socitm acknowledged. But it remained "unclear" how cutting costs would deliver the government’s stated aim of "improving" services for citizens and businesses, Socitm said.
In a policy briefing, the industry body said the government should have considered more fully a proper "vision for local public service delivery", with a focus on better local shared services and more local control. There also needed to be more emphasis on data handling, with better sharing of information across different services.
The government’s focus on technology that was "not yet [fully] developed" – including the G-cloud and shared datacentres – was a concern, Socitm said. It urged the government to define the specifications more closely.
There also needed to be clear plans for "disruptive" technology that could help operations, including Lean systems, Agile implementation, shared front and back office technology, and systems supporting flexible working. And, Socitm said, more incentives were needed for early adopters of technology.
Martin Ferguson, head of policy at the industry body, said these areas are crucial if the strategy is to work in practice for local authorities.
He added that the aim of cutting costs "could prevent investment in technologies that would enable savings", which would end up "dwarfing anything that could be achieved by cutting ICT costs alone".
But the government was right in some areas, Socitm said. It welcomed the fact that the plans had been "spelt out" for the wider public sector, the focus on transforming public services, the "collaborative approach", the support for the Public Sector Network, and the emphasis on professionalism and green IT.