UK Public Sector Asks for £1 Billion For Radical IT Change

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Central Government money could get a quick payback and help meet carbon targets projects by overhauling local IT, says SOCITM

The UK’s public sector IT managers have repeated a call for a £1 billion stimulus package to radically overhaul services in local government, health and education, which would reduce carbon emissions and deliver rapid savings back to the stimulus fund.

“We’re not making a special plea for more money in the next budget,” said Steve Palmer, president of the Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM), at a public debate held at the House of Commons on Thursday. “We want a central fund for IT efficiency projects that will deliver savings.” The stimulus package would make a full return in three years, and eventually pay back £3 billion, he said.

The package was originally proposed by public-sector IT provider Logicalis in January, and has been backed by other vendors including CA and IBM, as well as SOCITM. Since then, despite developing the country’s infrastructure in moves such as Digital Britain, the Government has ignored more local IT efficiency projects, said Chris Gabriel, marketing solutions director at Logicalis.

The Government’s response to the financial crisis will leave the public sector with less money, at the same time as a commitment to reduce global warming will require major changes, warned Trewin Restorick, director of Global Action Plan, the charity co-ordinating the campaign: “Future generations will have less money to deliver services. Bizarrely, this comes with a climate change strategy which is world leading,” he said. “There’s a legally binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Under these two pressures, financial and carbon, business as usual is not an option.”

From 2010, companies and public sector organisations will feel the pinch directly, from the government’s carbon reduction legislation. This cash-neutral law will penalise those lower down the table of polluters, and reward those higher up: “So health money may go to Tesco,” said Restorick. Tesco is expected to shake up the finance sector and has used virtualisation to reduce its carbon footprint

Central government has been failing in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, with the Sustainable Development Commission reporting that its emissions actually went up by three percent last year, and IT was a major part of this increase, said Restorick.

Local government, on the other hand, has huge opportunities through sharing services and collaboration, he said. The proposed stimulus package would address one barrier to this – a lack of capital – but the meeting raised other issues, including the difficulty of accessing IT knowledge to design projects without breaking EC rules on procurement, and the privacy issues involved in sharing data between departments.

Backing the proposal, Andrew Miller, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said IT-based efficiency moves such as teleworking would require big changes, but must happen locally: “It’s about big issues that stretch across the world, and about things you can do locally. You can think that the problem is too big, but everyone can do something and ever one of us should.”

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