Get real Read!

An article in this week’s Computing – has some interesting feedback, some of it rather challengeable, from the Government IT conference the week before in London. According to Martin Read, former chief executive of Logica, apparently brought into the Treasury last summer to try to improve back-office and IT efficiencies in the public sector. (The old managerialist story that the private is better than the public sector, so they can sort us out?). Read is due to announce his review intentions alongside this year’s budget.

Read told delegates that measuring expenditure in the public sector, particularly local government, was very hard to do: “Little detail is kept on what is getting spent and what it is getting spent on,” he said. “The public sector is big and very fragmented.”

Read and his team claim to have used five different methods to evaluate public sector IT spend, and came up with results as low as £13bn and as high as £21bn, finally settling on an average figure of about £16bn in 2007/08, though he admits this is a “very inexact science”.

Read is reported to say that his team had used six different methods to evaluate the extent to which spend could be reduced, and they all came up with about the same figure – although he cannot reveal it until the budget is announced in March and is quoted as saying: “All six methods of evaluation concur on the same amount – and it’s a significant amount.”

I would contest that measuring expenditure in local government is hard to do, after years of privation, unlike central government, every penny is known about and used constructively, especially with the year-on-year Gershon savings. Unlike central government capital and revenue expendiure has to be accounted for on an annual basis, hence the difficulties encountered when the DWP expected local government to find the many thousands of additional expenditure required to comply with Government Connect!

If he can’t get a handle on central government, that’s the problem of the Treasury Green Book, government management and a bureaucracy that’s become even more complex thanks to the managerialism imposed over the last thirty years or so. I just hope it doesn’t result in further cuts on an already strangled local government IT. I’m not saying local government IT is perfect everywhere, but at least it has the checks and balances of local democracy accounting for it.

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One Response to Get real Read!

  1. Helen says:

    I completely agree with this post. Every penny of expenditure in our local authority has to be accounted for and is scrutinised and squeezed for savings.

    I have recently finished an efficiency excercise on Council IT spend and it was incredibly difficult to find savings. We did manage to achieve £1.7m of savings, but this was through a lot of hard work: contract renegotiations, consolidating offices so that expensive BT network and energy bills could be reduced, virtualisation of the data centre, surrender of the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (which may turn out to be shortsighted but was all that was left to achieve our ‘target’), etc.

    All of this brought the council’s IT spend to the bone and there is but dust left in the piggy bank. This was just the IT efficiency project and others were done across the council just so that the council could balance the books. To think that there is anything left after the financial and service pressures central government have put on us, in addition to the current economic and social status of the country, is preposterous!

    One thing I have learned in the last couple of years is that is is easy for somebody detached from local government to ‘identify savings’, but the reality of driving them out is years of hard work and can result in unaffordable cuts. From our perspective, if it was possible to make the savings we would already be doing it. I know there are parts of the public sector that are inefficient but the targets from central government tar us all with the same brush, which means that those that are already efficient suffer or are branded as a failure.

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