Public sector IT leaders have expressed concern that IT could be hit by raised expectations and reduced funding following Alistair Darling’s Budget.
Darling announced measures to improve public sector efficiency, which will see central and local government IT departments and their suppliers charged with delivering more with less.
IT will be required to streamline public sector back office functions, while the Chancellor has last called for substantial cuts in public sector IT spending.
Richard Steel, the outgoing president of Socitm, the public sector IT managers’ organisation, expressed concern that demands for across the board cuts could harm public sector organisations that are already efficient and leave those "have the most fat" relatively unscathed.
"Working with Buying Solutions to develop pan-Government Solutions and efficiency will make an effective approach but, even then, it needs to be kept in mind that local Government is about supporting local communities, for which is has a duty of care," said Steel, who is also chief information officer for the London Borough of Newham.
"These include local suppliers. The needs and resources of those communities vary enormously, and require different strategies and approaches to serve effectively. The most deprived are most reliant on local authority services. From an IT perspective, there’s a need to work with local businesses to effectively utilise local authorities' ICT infrastructure and service transformation."
Steve Palmer, who today took over from Steel as Socitm president, supported the sentiments of the government’s Operational Efficiency Programme, from which Darling got his figures.
"In today’s climate, we should be striving to move resources to the front line. ICT enablement that is properly thought through, delivered, owned and governed can help us achieve this and create the organisational change we need to modernise our services," he said.
But Palmer also emphasised the role of IT as an enabler, rather than a cost. Local government, he said, would benefit from "dedicated investment and guidance from central government" to deploy "smarter technologies and strategies" that would help deliver the savings.
"Through ICT initiatives that engender efficiency, productivity and collaboration, re-working services in ways that make sense to the user and join up of organisational boundaries, will arm local government organisations to meet ever increasing efficiency demands."
The OEP review has placed great store on outsourcing and the spread of shared services, particularly for central government, but the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents civil servants, labelled the efficiency savings as "spending cuts" which would hurt services and cost jobs.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary said, "We have seen the impact of botched privatisations and IT outsourcing with Rail Track, the Criminal records Bureau and Tax Credits. The result has seen the government bailing out the private sector at a cost of millions to the taxpayer."