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Public sector closes the IT pay gap, survey shows

Bill Goodwin

Public sector pay for IT professionals has largely caught up with the private sector following a significant rise in public sector salaries over the past 12 months.

Salaries for public sector IT professionals, which have traditionally lagged behind the private sector, are now comparable with corporate IT salaries, the latest Computer Weekly/SSL research has revealed.

A slew of major government IT projects have driven public sector salaries up as government competes with business for skilled staff. At the same time, pay rates have risen at a slower rate in the private sector over the past three years, with firms no longer willing to pay premiums for skills.

Public sector salaries for permanent staff are now on average just 10% lower than the private sector average - a deficit that is more than made up for by generous public sector pension schemes and holiday entitlement.

"Outside the multinationals, pay is better in the public sector than the private sector," said Philip Virgo, strategic adviser at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems. "Now is a good time to join the public sector."

However, IT professionals interested in taking this opportunity should do so soon. "In economic terms, it cannot last," said Virgo. "My advice is to get recruited now, get established and get your feet under the table."

The pay gap between the public and private sectors has steadily narrowed from 15% in late 2003 to 10.33% in 2005, the Computer Weekly/SSL survey revealed.

Separate research by SSL and public sector services specialist Capita showed that as government IT spending continued to rise, annual pay rises for public sector IT staff reached 5.6% by mid-2005, exceeding private sector levels for the first time.

However, pay rates for some senior posts rose much faster, with advertised salaries for network managers in London up by more than 13% and system auditors' salaries up by 11%.

Public sector IT managers group Socitm said some large local authorities were now offering salaries of £100,000 for IT directors - a significant increase on three years ago, when high-level pay averaged 60% of private sector rates.

"Councils are recognising the value of IT and they are willing to invest in it," said Socitim member services manager Stewart Jackson. "If you look at levels from IT manager down, the salaries offered in the private sector and public sector are fairly similar."

Research by Socitm earlier this year showed that on average public sector IT staff could expect to earn 80% of private sector rates, and junior staff could expect 85% to 90% of private sector rates.

Anne Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies, said, "The gap is much tighter now. A lot of that is the big government investments. A lot of the higher salaries are from central government. Local government is a bit behind but is moving upwards."

The upturn has led to a change in attitude among IT professionals, who are beginning to view the public sector as a credible place to work, said Bruce Mair, principal consultant at recruitment firm Harvey Nash.

"There is a recognition that some public sector work is quite challenging, technically and from a business perspective," he said.


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