Council IT spending set to hit ‘all time high’

Local authorities have plans to spend more on IT than ever, according to public sector IT directors’ organisation Socitm.

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Local authorities have plans to spend more on IT than ever, according to public sector IT directors’ organisation Socitm.

Some £3.2 billion was predicted to be spent on IT by local authorities in the 2008 to 2009 financial year, according to local council IT directors surveyed in May. This was a five percent increase on the previous year, according to the Socitm report ‘IT Trends in local government 2008/9’. The key areas of spending include security, privacy and access to information, it said.

But Socitm warned that the data was collected before the financial turmoil of late last year. The recession means that spending will “due to suffer in the coming years, the organisation warned.

According to the survey, IT services spending overtook software spending, accounting for 13 percent of budgets. Hardware accounted for 11 percent, data and voice for nine percent, and three percent of budgets was spent on consultancy fees. Staff costs remain the principal expenditure, accounting for 44 percent of spending as employee turnover remains high.

The figures come from a highly-detailed survey of 600 IT heads in local authorities, taken annually.

The report highlighted difficult challenges that local authorities are facing. IT is “too often regarded as a utility rather than a means to transform public services” with it even being “downgraded” in management eyes, Socitm said, reminding councils that new technology had the potential to deliver “radical change” in public services. It advised councils to make sure IT chiefs were involved more prominently in strategic discussions.

This attitude meant there is reluctance among councils to borrow cash in order to fund IT schemes, Socitm said, “suggesting that the business cases are not compelling”. Additionally, pooling of budgets and the use of shared services have “not yet taken off as expected”, it said.

These problems exist even with the high demands for IT, security and social networking, the report stated.

Nevertheless, IT had helped councils successfully hit governmental efficiency targets, with local authorities in England making £4.3 billion total efficiency gains, to which the back office contributed over 28 per cent. A further £4.9 billion in efficiency targets by 2010 and 2011 have been earmarked by the government.

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