What IT wants from the Chancellor

IT professionals had a simple set of demands for Chancellor Gordon Brown ahead of his pre-Budget statement to the House of...

IT professionals had a simple set of demands for Chancellor Gordon Brown ahead of his pre-Budget statement to the House of Commons today.

They called for tax incentives to speed up broadband rollout, government initiatives to increase public trust in online services and repeated calls for the scrapping of the IR35 tax regime on IT contractors.

Pete Marsden, chief technology officer at online bank Egg, praised Tony Blair's efforts to get the UK population online and called for further Budget measures to accelerate the process.

He proposed funding for a government-backed digital identity scheme. "Rather than Microsoft or Liberty Alliance providing digital identity systems, I would like to see the government involved. It is difficult for people to accept or trust commercial organisations unless they are linked to the government."

Marsden also suggested the chancellor revisit the IR35 issue. "It was good to try and crack down on tax loopholes, but IR35 has driven consultants abroad," he said.

Colin Beveridge, technology management expert, backed the call to scrap IR35 and called for tax changes to protect the UK IT industry from offshore competition. "The contract market has collapsed over the last ten months and shows no signs of rejuvenating," he said.

"The Indian subcontinent has an unfair advantage with tax-free periods on profits of four to ten years. We can't prevent this but there could be something to allow UK IT companies to exploit the potential to compete in the world market place."

Beveridge also called for tax breaks on infrastructure providers involved in broadband development. "BT has fallen back on demand-led infrastructure," he said. "We need serious tax incentives to roll out broadband."

Fahri Zihni, vice-president of the Society of IT Management (Socitm), the local authority IT directors' organisation, wanted more overall funding for local government which could then be invested in IT.

He welcomed Blair's affirmation at last week's e-Summit of the government's intention to invest £6bn in public sector IT but said too little was being directly allocated to local government IT.

The government only provides £100m a year to pay for e-government projects across all local authorities in the UK, he said.

Jim Norton, former director of the Cabinet Office e-business team and former head of e-business at the Institute of Directors, also focused on public sector IT services.

"I would like to see a recognition that IT spending is not just about hardware and software. It's as much about people, processes, planning and training. In the public sector this part tends to be cut out."

Norton said the Budget should encourage "best practice" with incentives split evenly between products and people. "It would make sure money was well spent and avoid embarrassing project failures."

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