IT driving government efficiency plans

Improved use of technology can bring about the efficiency gains demanded by the government, but local authorities have been warned not to sacrifice customer service

Local authorities are relying on IT to make the efficiency savings that the government is demanding from them over the next three years.

According to a report from local government IT user group Socitm, as the e-government programme draws to a close in England, the public sector is turning its attention to using technology to deliver the efficiency targets.

Between 2005 and 2008 local authorities have to deliver 2.5 percent efficiency gains every year, and the government expects many of the gains to be delivered through better use of IT.

But the Socitm report notes: "Some local authorities were already in the process of making what are now termed major efficiency gains, before the Efficiency Review became a major plank of government policy."

It added: "The Efficiency Review should be a great opportunity for the ICT function. If properly focused, investment in e-government programmes should support business transformation in local public services. The review brings with it many opportunities for better and more effective use of technology."

Socitm said these include encouraging the public to use self-service options such as Web site transactions; streamlining corporate and support services by using business process mapping; supporting new ways of working including mobile and home working; and improved e-procurement practices.

The study highlights Bracknell Forest Borough Council as an authority which has made efficiency savings through new technology.

One in three workers have taken advantage of the option to work in new ways using the BFAnywhere flexible working portal, which has enabled the council to vacate an entire office building saving £350,000 a year, the report said.

Changes in procurement have generated savings of almost £750,000 over the life of the contracts, while bringing the payroll service back in-house has realised £40,000 a year in efficiency gains through reduced error rates.

However, Socitm warns that efficiency should not be a separate initiative but part of the main agenda of improving services for the public: "Changes focused on meeting the needs of customers and local communities will lead as a by-product to efficiency gains in service delivery."

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