E-government planning "is like the space race"

'Whitehall we have a problem... '
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

'Whitehall we have a problem... '

Local authorities are spending £3.3bn per year on IT systems and staffing - but this is still not enough and the public still aren't interested in online services.

According to a report from local government IT group Socitm, councils have spent in excess of £13bn on IT over the past five years, an increase in resources of £2bn.

While almost half of the new money has come from central government, the balance has been found from council budgets. Spending on IT systems, services and staff in 2005/6 has risen by 23 per cent to £3.3bn, Socitm's annual IT Trends survey found.

But the report warned council IT spending is still well below that of organisations which use IT "aggressively", which may cast doubt on authorities' commitment to transformation.

The report also found council IT execs are bullish about the benefits of e-government, and are clear the programme is helping to deliver better council services. But they said take-up is so far disappointing, because of poor marketing and resistance by customers to change their habits.

The number of IT chiefs that play a significant role in the development of council services is increasing, although the report warns: "There are still many councils where the ICT manager does not have influence in key areas."

It also said the role of CIO, responsible not just for the IT but for the information systems and the information they contain, "is yet to emerge in local government".

Socitm senior vice president Peter Ryder said the e-government programme has been a bit like the space exploration programme. He said in a statement: "Expensive and full of risk, and where the eventual benefits - satellite television, instant global communication, geo-positioning systems and better weather forecasting to name a few - were not those originally envisaged. "In the fullness of time the e-government programme may well deliver a similar set of surprising benefits."

The survey was based on responses from heads of IT and e-champions at 467 local authorities of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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