Caution dominates public sector CIO realm

Staffordshire County Council’s decision to hire an IT business engagement manager looks positively daring in the current economic climate. According to Computerworld UK, the aim of the new role is to “support the local authority’s change from being technology-driven to more business-driven.”

Staffordshire’s CIO, Sander Kristel, said that the council faced the challenge of saving £100 million over the next five years, and that it was now focusing on commissioning services rather than delivering them directly. “Helping the organisation to change and finding someone dedicated to that change is really important to us,” he said. While Kristel’s role is to liaise with the business at a director level, the new ICT business engagement manager will be more involved at the operational level.

 Surrey County Council is also taking an innovative approach to IT. Surrey has awarded a contract to FutureGov to develop social media apps to help it better engage with its citizens. Work that may be included in the contract, includes “identifying opportunities for improvement through social media applications and designing, developing and testing social media applications.” The council already uses Twitter to post news, events and job vacancies.

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 The impact of the global economic crisis continues to be felt at a local level. Kent County Council, which lost millions of pounds in the 2008 collapse of the Icelandic banks, has said that it would stop using Spanish-owned bank Santander for its overnight deposits, following the downgrading of the bank’s credit rating, according to a report in the Financial Times. Since that initial announcement, however, the bank has reassured UK customers that their deposits are safe, as the UK operation is completely autonomous from the Spanish operation, and the council has changed its mind.             

Elections for local councils were held at the beginning of May, and 10 cities held referendums on whether to move to an elected mayor. A CIO blog expressed support for a Yes vote, on the basis that, “A mayor for our cities, and hopefully in the fullness of time our counties, will create a single point of contact, complaint and accountability.”  It was not to be. Perhaps another sign of these downbeat times is that nine of the 10 cities, including Sheffield and Coventry, voted No. According to Bagehot, The Economist’s political commentator, the principal reason for the failure of the plan was voters’ unwillingness to pay the salary of another politician: “Anti-mayor leaflets came up with guesstimates of just how much the change would cost. It became like an auction: each election will cost a quarter of a million, they will have to pay the mayor and his aides another quarter of a million, then there will be expenses, it’ll be a million pound mayor.”

 It seems that, in times of financial belt-tightening, the British public prefers caution over innovation.