The public sector employers offering the best places to do IT in local government

Over the forthcoming months, Computer Weekly plans to profile the IT departments that have made it onto our roll-call of the Best...

Over the forthcoming months, Computer Weekly plans to profile the IT departments that have made it onto our roll-call of the Best Places to Work in IT 2003.

Through feedback from IT managers and their staff, our aim is to celebrate the best employers of IT professionals and highlight employment best practice for other IT departments to follow. This week we profile small local government organisations.

East Lothian Council

Number of IT staff: 36

Annual staff turnover: 2.8%

IT training budget per head: £650

Amount of new development work: 10%

Annual holiday: 25 days

What the judges thought

Affidavits from IT staff at East Lothian Council point to a contented workforce.

"The council is a very enjoyable place to work and everyone gels well together," said one.

"Conditions of service are good, salaries stand in reasonable comparison with the private sector and, with e-government initiatives underway, the work is challenging," said another.

And if you are an IT professional with a penchant for the rural way of life, it sounds like just the place for you. Another employee told us, "The quality of life in East Lothian is excellent. The department is based in Haddington, in the heart of the countryside, yet it is only 25 minutes from the centre of Edinburgh."

IT manager Colin Shand admits that opportunities to provide financial rewards such as bonuses or other special awards are pretty much nil for IT staff working in a local authority.

"However, we do encourage staff to advance themselves via several initiatives such as career grade schemes, employee development reviews and regular team meetings where staff are encouraged to contribute," he said.

Shand said the low turnover rate of his staff can be accounted for in several ways. "We work in a blame-free environment. It is not the case of whose fault it is, but rather how can this problem be fixed and safeguards be put in place," he said. "On the fun side of things, there is a regular away day organised. Also, the working environment is open plan which helps prevent any intellectual barriers being erected and helps promote an air of bonhomie."

Education Department IT Team, Stoke-On-Trent Council

Number of IT staff: 7

Annual staff turnover: 0%

IT training budget per head: £1,500

Amount of new development work: 25%

Annual holiday: 25 days

What the judges thought

As befits an IT team in an education department, staff development is high on the agenda. The department has an excellent staff retention rate and an annual training budget of £1,500 per employee. In the past year the organisation has achieved Investor in People status.

"Quality staff are the most important resource of any IT organisation and it is the investment in these staff that is key to any success we have," said Graham Hughes, head of IT in the Stoke-on-Trent Education Department IT Team.

"Professional and personal development of staff is as important, if not more so, than organisational achievement and recognition," he said.

The department has recently implemented a private broadband network. Hughes said, "This has improved the working environment considerably in terms of speed of access to the internet for support tools. We have ease of access to remote support functions and professional and personal development opportunities are better.

"Staff morale has also improved - less time is spent doing mundane functions such as driving into work and this leaves more time to work on emerging technologies."

The IT team is currently developing a wide range of internet-based services for the department. These sites have been tailored to meet the needs of key groups in the education community.

The sites offer internet links, downloadable resources and guidance relevant to each group. The portal will eventually offer e-mail updates of news and events, surveys and quizzes and access to discussion forums on the local community.

Perth and Kinross Council

Number of IT staff: 45

Annual staff turnover: 0%

IT training budget per head: £500

Amount of new development work: 55%

Annual holiday: 25 days

What the judges thought

"The council as a whole works hard to provide employees with flexible work policies. Work-life balance is very high on the agenda," said Karen Lawrie, IT manager at Perth and Kinross Council.

She said the council offers a range of perks including an occupational health service, a counselling service, a harassment advice network and special rates at public leisure facilities

"Local government is not the most glamorous place to work and certainly no longer has the 'job for life' security once associated with the sector," said Lawrie

IT staff at the council receive constant legislative demands on services, a steady stream of new initiatives and stringent governance. They also deal with the ongoing e-government agenda and ever increasing expectations.

"But what makes this an excellent place to work is the people," said Lawrie. "Senior management strive to retain staff through maintaining training budgets, retention planning and an exciting work programme. We have recently been on the Microsoft Early Adopter programme for Server 2003. There is a wide skills base in the department, a huge amount of experience and an excellent atmosphere."

IT is split into two main divisions: business services and technical services. Business services has responsibility for corporate IT initiatives such as data protection, security and service level agreements, and technical services is more diverse, providing IT facilities from the helpdesk to engineering services and production work.

Shortlist sponsor

The sponsor of this week's shortlist is IT staffing company Real IT, which provides advice and IT personnel to more than 100 public sector organisations throughout the UK.

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