Public sector IT boom boosts salaries to private sector levels

Growing IT spending by public sector organisations has created many additional jobs and is pushing salary rates up to the levels...

Growing IT spending by public sector organisations has created many additional jobs and is pushing salary rates up to the levels seen in the private sector, recruitment consultants have said.

Public sector IT spending is set to rise by 16% this year, and high-profile projects such as the £2.3bn national programme for IT in the NHS is underpinning government attempts to reform public services. Meanwhile, local authorities are racing to meet the 2005 deadline for making their services available online.

The latest Computer Weekly IT Expenditure Report predicted that IT spending overall will increase by 8.4% this year, but that spending growth in the public sector will be double this.

As a result, the traditionally lower wages in the public sector are starting to catch up with those in the private sector, said Sean Wadsworth, managing director of recruitment consultancy Real IT Resourcing.

"A programmer in the public sector can now attract wages of between £25,000 and £30,000, which is the same as in the private sector," he said.

Wadsworth added that there has been a "massive" upturn in permanent and contract jobs in the health, central and local government sectors.

In response to the upsurge in IT investment, local authority IT managers' association Socitm has launched a personal development strategy for its members to help them cope with increased demand for their skills.

IT professionals considering a move from the private to the public sector can look forward to the prospect of working on a wider variety of projects. Other benefits include job security and good pension schemes.

Simon Mingay, research director at analyst firm Gartner, said this meant that IT professionals who would never have considered the public sector before are now keen to get into it - particularly those made redundant in the private sector.

But new recruits should still be prepared to experience remnants of the public sector's culture of red tape, he added.

"There may still be a culture shock for some but the public sector is now far less than some sort of black art that no-one really knows about until they take a job in it. With the huge media coverage of the major IT projects, those interested will find it easier to make their own decisions rather than rely on stereotypes."

"People who work in the public sector have a certain motivation - they want to 'make a difference' or perhaps they like working on a diverse range of projects," said Steve Ripley, head of IT at Bexley Council. "At Bexley, we effectively have 70 different businesses, which is obviously unlike most private sector organisations."

Ripley agreed that IT salaries in the public sector - traditionally about 20% lower than the private sector - were starting to catch up.

"The boundaries are definitely starting to disappear, but what we have seen over the past couple of years is a temporary blip - once the private sector starts to recover it will probably be ahead again in terms of wages," said Ripley.

But despite this, said Ripley, the advantage of working in the private sector would not be as distinct as in the past, because many councils have outsourced their IT and many of those people formerly working for the public sector had since transferred to private sector companies.

"We have been outsourcing for 10 years and neighbouring councils such as Greenwich and Bromley are doing the same thing, so that illustrates how boundaries are slowly disappearing," said Ripley.

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