The post-2010 election emergency budget announced reductions in departmental spend of £17 billion by 2014/15 and subsequent scrapping of capital projects such as Building Schools for the Future (BSF). Local government and its partners are going to face challenging financial times and most councils are facing budget cuts over the next three to four years. This situation is compounded, in an increasingly online age and in a prolonged downturn, by rising residents' expectations of what local economic support and services are available - and how quickly and easily they can be accessed.
To address these new target savings in a meaningful way, a lot needs to be done by councils from the bottom up. At Devon County Council we have recognised these changing requirements and ICT's key role in striking the right balance between delivering required cost efficiencies, enabling increased services to local businesses and residents, and fostering economic growth.
We developed the network for Devon vision two years ago and working closely with Siemens Enterprise Communications we have now delivered that network. We planned and have rolled out a new converged voice and data network deliberately to encourage shared services across the county's large geography: Devon is the fourth largest county in Great Britain covering 2,590 square miles. This strategy delivered cost efficiencies balanced with the excellent citizen service with lower overall cost of service. The continued economic downturn made this approach even more important. Clearly as local authorities are now looking at renewed savings, we have a platform in place that the wider community in the South West can benefit from.
Devon's shared service platform will enable us to progress wider partnerships with the public sector, by pooling resources or advancing initiatives where multiple funding streams are directed towards larger scale and less bureaucratic projects. We now have a robust, scalable voice and data network, capable of quickly and securely providing fast resilient bandwidth to locations and other authorities in the South West. This will promote common business process and technology platforms, enabling other authorities to secure greater cost efficiencies or make use of our extra capacity for additional services they want to – or can no longer – provide. These common platforms, which will ultimately become part of wider Public Sector Network and ICT facilities, will also help drive simpler ICT procurement and service innovation processes too.
As we prepare for the Comprehensive Spending Review in October, we knew we needed a platform that would be the core investment to also support a much more flexible working environment to reduce costs, further increase staff productivity, deliver environmental benefits through reduced staff travel, enable the council to handle citizens' needs more flexibly and enhance business continuity across its communications platforms. These more flexible working practices will also enable us to rationalise and unlock value from our property portfolio - and transform the facilities management and maintenance costs associated with it. When times are tough, you need to invest at the base to secure both short and long term cost efficiencies."