Cuts to IT budgets in local councils have been minimised in an attempt by local authorities to drive efficiency savings through technology, according the latest report from Socitm.
Budgets made available for ICT functions declined by 2.6% in 2010 compare to the previous year, while borrowing to invest in ICT doubled. In 2009 budgets shrank by 11%. This year’s figure was much less than expected, said the body for public sector IT professionals.
Jos Creese, president of Socitm (pictured), said: "[There is] a new confidence in what ICT can deliver, with investment being made to drive wider savings and change. Moreover, ICT is no longer just about supporting or automating the 'back office' it is being recognised as a delivery function in its own right, through contact centres and self-service, both internally and externally."
However, the number of ICT staff employed in the sector is estimated to have fallen by 1,000 in 2010, resulting in a record-low expenditure on employees. Staff numbers will continue to decline over the next year, partly due to more organisations moving to shared services or outsourcing, said John Serle, author of the report.
Technical equipment purchases also fell by 30% in the same period, said the 520 local governments surveyed in the report.
The IT Trends report found shared services agreements are now a major part of local authorities' cost reduction strategies, with 'self service' systems likely to be a feature in many future provisions.
"Sharing services always used to be difficult because of the politics. But now the financial pressures are so great, [councils] are putting those issues to one side." Around 10% of local authorities are already doing it, but all are considering it, said Serle.
The organisation said the top three priorities for CIOs ought to be services sharing, getting rid of expensive equipment and moving to a self service model.
David Hopkins, councillor at Milton Keynes Council, said that IT was integral to the shake up of local services.
"I am not a great believer in the G-cloud, and the impression I've been given is that the government has booted it into the long grass. However, I think we will see the emergence in local cloud based solutions, such as the Kent cloud or the Sussex cloud," he said.