Budget: What we want from the Chancellor

IT directors and chief information officers are looking forward to this week's Budget with more hope than expectation.

IT directors and chief information officers are looking forward to this week's Budget with more hope than expectation.

Key industry concerns inevitably include the general state of the economy, combined with increasing anxiety about the UK's IT infrastructure and skills base.

"Any measures that help develop the country's technology infrastructure and boost the technology sector will be welcome," said John Handby, chairman of the IT directors' forum CIO Connect, "but I don't really expect much from Gordon Brown," he added.

It was a view shared by Mark Ralph, e-commerce director at private healthcare provider Bupa. "I no longer look to the government for help," he told CW360.com.

For Ralph the future of broadband is key. Strategies to wire up Britain need "a wholesale revamp," he said. "I would rather pay the government to create a proper digital highway in Britain than pay BT for what we have got now."

Any boost for broadband will bring joy to the Communication Managers' Association. "We need far greater incentives to accelerate the roll out of broadband," a CMA representative told CW360.com.

"We are not asking for subsidies. We need incentives to encourage UK business to adopt broadband and to encourage investment within the communications industry to provide it.

"If that does not happen the government's targets and aspirations for a wired-up Britain will simply not be achieved."

Robin Carsberg, president of the Society of IT Management, the public sector IT directors' organisation, agreed. He called for extra money for public sector IT and for the rollout of a national broadband infrastructure.

"The downward pressure on local authority finances is continuous while at the same time there is a drive for e-government and e-enablement of local communities, but there is no extra money. The economics just don't add up. The Chancellor should address that, but I doubt he will.

"There have been a lot of disparate initiatives, but they are not sustainable on present funding levels," said Carsberg. "A lot of the Pathfinder projects, for example, seem to have stalled through lack of funds.

"The second thing we need is a government strategy and funding for a national broadband infrastructure. It is central to the success of e-government. The 2005 targets are all well and good but it is not a lot of use if customers can't access the services or if they are so slow they are effectively unusable," Carsberg said.

IT contractors have been hit hard by the economic slowdown but for Jane Akshar, chair of the Professional Contractors' Group, the IR35 tax legislation remains the biggest threat to contractors and small technology firms.

"IR35 was ill-conceived and poorly drafted legislation," she said. If the government will not abolish this tax regime, the PCG wants it to at least clarify the rules and regulations for small businesses in the knowledge-based sector.

If IT professionals are sceptical about the contents of Chancellor Brown's red Budget box, he has at least made it easier to implement the IT systems changes that follow any Budget, according to Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

He said the Chancellor's publication of a Green Budget several months ahead of the actual Budget day was a great help for IT professionals preparing systems and packages to deal with the business impact of taxation changes.

"Giving as much information as possible at the pre-Budget stage on the main rates - corporation tax, PAYE and VAT means the IT industry can get its programmes out and businesses can get their systems ready."

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