Budget 2011: IT's productivity potential ignored, say public sector IT bosses

Yesterday's budget speech largely ignored the potential for networking and IT to boost economic growth, say leaders from ICT user communities

Yesterday's budget speech largely ignored the potential for networking and IT to boost economic growth, say leaders from ICT user communities who also called for more clarity over the government's long term plans to exploit IT.

Jos Creese, president of Socitm, the public sector IT professionals association, said some government decision makers suspected and feared publicity over past public sector IT procurement "fiascos".

"This may account for a reluctance to be more specific about the potential for technology to reform public services in particular," he said.

Socitm said the budget missed a chance to use investment and incentives in IT and the digital sector to boost the economy, social inclusion and public sector efficiency.

Economic growth will depend on broadband, electronic service and demand stimulation, Socitm said. It saw the announcement of the 21 enterprise zones, the first four to be in Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester and London, with "super-fast broadband" as a stimulus to industry, including IT and the digital sector. It also acknowledged the funding for 12 university technical colleges for its potential contribution to addressing the technology skills shortage.

But these measures were modest, it said. It would have welcomed more money for broadband roll-out and expansion. Tax or other incentives for home and flexible working and associated developments in telehealth could have saved money and cut carbon emissions, mitigated the effect of rising energy costs and improved public services, it said.

"There are no incentives for the public sector to invest in sustainable use of IT, for example green data centres, and no incentives for investment in digitally-assisted communications to reduce travel costs and the economy's carbon footprint," it said in a statement.

It would have welcomed incentives to speed up the development of shared services and the joining up of local public services, especially by local authorities, health and education services. These are presently limited by the way budgets are allocated and savings reported, it said.

Socitm would have liked to see more done to overcome digital exclusion. "The government's own Digital Champion has pointed out that the average household saves £560 a year by shopping and paying bills online, but adding this amount to the state pension would cost the treasury £6bn a year," it said.

The Communications Management Association (CMA), which represents £13bn a year spending on communications services, welcomed the government's to set up 21 new enterprise zones that will receive government support for "new superfast broadband".

"However, it's unclear how this fits in to BDUK's policy, nor is it clear if there will be an allocation from the earmarked £830m," said David Harrington, the CMA's spokesman.

He added that it was "odd" that the new zones were in urban areas. "We might assume they already enjoy, or will enjoy under present plans, access to Virgin Media's cable and BT's FTTx rollout," he said.

Harrington hoped that department of culture, media and sport (DCMS) would soon publish further details of its broadband plan to show how the broadband "patchwork quilt" was going to be joined up seamlessly.

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