Councils face changed priorities for year ahead

Council IT departments face a tougher challenge in the next 12 months, despite four years' striving to meet national targets to...

Council IT departments face a tougher challenge in the next 12 months, despite four years' striving to meet national targets to get all local government services online, according to the public sector user group Socitm's IT trends survey.

Local authorities have made good progress in putting services online by 2005, with e-government expected to deliver improved access and better service to the public, the report said.

There has been less progress in rationalising the back-end systems that lie behind the web-enabled customer facing systems, the survey found.

This failure to re-engineer back-office processes is now creating difficulties. The challenge for council IT directors has been compounded by new priorities for local government from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, together with the efficiency savings mandated in the Gershon review of public spending.

John Serle, report editor, said streamlining processes was now a major difficulty for IT departments. "Until last year - and the announcement of government priority outcomes - the interest was in e-government across all services.

"The back end has not become more efficient," he said, warning that this now posed problems for councils trying to make savings under the Gershon review."

This requires councils to make efficiency savings of 2.5% each year for the next three years.

"There is also a difference between what Gershon is saying and what the government is saying in its priority outcomes, which focus on key services such as social care, education and good homes," Serle said.

The e-government programme did not focus on business value and was instead aimed at creating a good shop window for public service, Serle said. "It is likely that the shop-window build for e-government was the wrong shop window. If we had started with re-engineering the business, we would not have designed things the way we have."

Despite this, IT departments were experiencing strong support from council leaders because of a broader acceptance of electronic service delivery, he said.

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