Calls for more government IT jobs are getting louder as committees scrutinise public services to see how they can be made more efficient. Heavy hitters including Phil Pavitt, CIO of HMRC and Helen Bailey, CEO of Local Partnerships, convened at the Efficiency Expo this week to discuss the role of IT.
Deeper technical skills needed
Martin Read, the government's efficiency advisor at the Cabinet Office, advocates more money should be spent on public sector IT staff. Read said that some areas of in-house IT staff need to be increased to save money and efficiently deliver IT contracts.
"The government has started to improve the capacity on its commercial functions in departments, but this does need to be continued. It shouldn't be in a position where it doesn't strengthen the areas that need to be strengthened. There has been a general reduction in IT staff, but some areas will need to be beefed up.”
Political and statutory vagaries
"The traditional approach of ‘give it to the private sector’ has failed time and time again," said Jos Creese, head of IT for Hampshire local authority, chiefly because local authorities of all sizes have to work to political and statutory vagaries, which make it hard to specify IT requirements for big or long term projects.
Creese cited the transparency agenda, which should be a straightforward piece of compliance for any local authority in-house IT team. However, if the finance system has been outsourced, he pointed out, then the provider may put up obstacles such as incompatibility, or may charge a steep sum.
The in-source advantage
"Those councils that have chosen to in-source have been able to leapfrog the normal benchmark for applications or systems and to steal a march”, said Creese. He referred to alternative models of IT provision [other than private sector], such as the large unitary authority that hosts services on behalf of small authorities.
In terms of key skills, the crucial ones to keep in-house include change management as well as some core technical skills, said Creese. “While it may make sense to have private clouds hosted by third party suppliers, the ownership of strategy should be retained in the public sector”, he said.
Lack of in-house IT expertise in government was also reported to a Public Administration Committee last week. Martin Rice, chief executive of software development company, Erudine, said the IT sector has taken advantage of this skills deficit at a huge cost to the taxpayer. “Each project reinvents the wheel, and as a taxpayer that shouldn't be allowed", he said.
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