Socitm: Whitehall ignoring benefits of local council IT investment

The government’s Operational Efficiency Programme ignores the financial benefits that IT investment offers to local councils, according to Socitm.

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The government’s Operational Efficiency Programme is ignoring the financial benefits that IT investment offers to local councils, according to Socitm.

Under the programme, billions of pounds will be cut from IT expenditure, but the local government IT managers’ organisation cautioned strongly against the approach.

Government advisers are recommending cuts in public sector IT spending of 20 percent, or £3.2 billion, by 2013. A further £4 billion savings in back office operations, such as finance and human resources, are also earmarked under the programme.

Socitm said that the OEP report, devised by ex-Logica chief executive Martin Read, is “almost totally silent” on the “value created” in local councils by IT-focused transformation programmes. IT is the enabler of different ways of working that could “dramatically” reduce the costs of operating local services, it said.

The report only offers “limited consideration” of local government services, it said, and fails to give detailed guidance on what savings councils alone are expected to generate, between town halls, emergency and health services, and education.

In a new Socitm paper, called ‘ICT, resourcing and transformation’, Socitm lambasts the OEP for failing to address the “cultural shift” required, especially at middle management level, to achieve the large changes planned in the way public services are delivered.

The OEP plans are also “silent on the need for every local service delivery body to have a separate ICT infrastructure”, it said. And they focus too much on the ‘digital switchover’, when there is still “no commitment” to universal broadband in the UK, the association said.

Socitm said the government had been correct to focus on the scale of the financial crisis facing public services, and agreed that the current model of IT delivery is “unsustainable”. But the response needed from councils was to demonstrate the value to be reaped at a local level from IT, innovative approaches to information management, and shared services.

Nevertheless, it said, transformational government activities had often demonstrated “disappointing” results so far, and authorities needed to learn from past mistakes.

Socitm said councils should spend around four tenths of their operational service budgets on transformation. Currently most councils spend only 10 percent changing systems, it said, with 90 percent spent on operations.

Clear leadership and transparent governance were needed to prevent expensive and awkward outsourcing arrangements, as well to fight against the poor use of information, it said. Councils should review projects early on, Socitm advised.

“These steps are about doing the obvious things now and acting with urgency,” it said. “They are about repeatable and reused processes replacing traditional ways of doing things.”

But it added that council managers needed training in transformation: “Our managers are ill-equipped to understand, let alone lead, business process improvement, business analysis and a fundamental re-think about what we do and how we do it.”

Socitm said it was working closely with councils to help them set programmes and budgets for IT transformation.

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