Socitm warns ministers to rationalisee-government plans

Whitehall must rationalise the planning and funding regime for local authority e-government, the Society of IT Management...

Whitehall must rationalise the planning and funding regime for local authority e-government, the Society of IT Management (Socitm) warned at the start of its spring conference this week.

The progress towards e-government and the considerable barriers ahead were summed up in a report, Local e-government now, 2002, there for the taking, which was released as the conference got under way.

New Socitm president Jim Haslam said: "There is no single prescription to ensure successful delivery of e-government. It is not a highly predictable process and success requires much more than technology."

"Things are starting to move," the Socitm report stated. "Last year a small number of pioneering councils were moving towards the implementation of e-government. This year there is much more evidence of e-government in action."

Nevertheless, Socitm has expressed concern about funding and the plethora of government initiatives. It has seized on ministers' "joined up government" catchphrase to call for "joined-up funding" of e-government initiatives.

Socitm also highlighted the contradiction between councils that are forced into competitive bidding for short-term pilot projects and the need for stable, long-term funding to roll out nationally the most successful approaches.

"Relying on a whole range of competitive bidding processes does seem somewhat 'hit or miss' for an agenda such as this," the report stated. It also introduces more competitive approaches when the whole thrust of the agenda should be on working together.

"If modernising government and making the most effective use of technologies across the public sector are important for the economic well-being of the nation, then it does seem as if some more joined-up approach should be found to ensure the initial investment in the changes is funded."

Socitm also highlighted potential conflicts of interest with suppliers who have been involved in the trials. "There are commercial interests involved in every one of the Pathfinder projects," the report noted.

"Their expectations are likely to include the availability of a product that will improve their commercial position. They expect to have a product, endorsed by central and local government, that they can market and sell across the local government marketplace.

"There is a risk that, if this commercial expectation is to be met, the non-commercial expectations of local government will be disappointed," Socitm warned.

The report also called for the government to rationalise both its strategic planning agenda and the funding regime for the projects that result.

Public sector IT directors gathered at the Socitm conference will be deeply concerned that Gordon Brown's recent Budget offered no sign that those calls have been heeded.

Socitm is also beginning the search for a chief executive following the endorsement of key parts of the organisation's strategic review by delegates. Members also voted to bring together the society (an unincorporated professional body) and its commercial arm, Socitm Services Limited, into a single legal entity.

Local e-government now, 2002, there for the taking, Socitm and Improvement and Development Agency, www.socitm.gov.org

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