Government ICT projects have been targeted alongside quangos, first-class travel and advertising campaigns in a fat-trimming exercise amounting to £6.2 billion cuts in public spending.
A total of £9.5 million of IT spend has been earmarked, with details of how the cuts fall to be disclosed later. "The cuts are just a start and are intended to send a shock-wave through government departments" confirmed David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
David Chan, director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University London, takes a ‘cup half-full’ view of the preliminary cull and thinks it’s a great opportunity for government ICT departments to retrench. "Given how expensive it is to make a civil servant expensive, the likelihood is that it will be cheaper and more effective to train up government IT workers to take on more responsibility for strategy and delivery", he believes.
However dispensing with the expensive but always-on services of suppliers such as Cap Gemini and IBM will require a new and resourceful mindset. "To paraphrase JFK, ICT government workers should ask not ‘what their Department can do for them but what they can do for their department’" says Chan.
The new austerity-era is also a fillip for Open Source, Linux and all those developers who are happy and able to collaborate in coding shareware. "It’s a nonsense that the Government is paying shed-loads of money for software license fees when there is free Open Source code that can be used", he said.
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Alan Downey, head of public sector services, KPMG, looks ahead to "when the tap is turned back on" and believes more projects will be delivered wholesale by the private sector. "There’s a sorry history of contract management in government and a game-changing move will be to shift that responsibility out to the private sector" he predicts.
David Clarke, CEO at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, said, "As a matter of principle, there is no such thing as an IT project or programme. Information technology underpins and enables the implementation of all government policies and programmes and more effective use of IT is the only way the government has of reducing overall programme costs and improve efficiency."
Clarke added, "It would be disappointing to see the critical role that IT and IT professionals play in enabling the implementation of government efficiency savings and in developing the information society to slip down the Government's agenda by the scrapping of some Government "IT projects."
Spending cuts at a glance
• £95m through savings in IT spending
• An immediate freeze on all new IT spending above £1m
• £1.7bn will be saved in delaying or stopping government contracts and projects
• More than £120m expected to be found through a freeze in civil service recruitment
• £600m by cutting the cost of quangos
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