Socitm has delivered a tough warning to councils on service levels, as it revealed they had cut IT expenditure per user by nearly a fifth in the last three years.

The local council IT managers’ association said councils had slashed 19.3 per cent from those budgets, warning that this could have serious negative consequences for service levels and the perception of the IT function. It urged them to maintain transformational capabilities.

“Draconian cuts in support services inevitably mean some loss of service,” Socitm wrote in its ‘Benchmarking services’ report. There was a fall of 15 percent in budgets in just the last year.

It said that IT spending was vital to supporting the initiatives many councils are taking to cut a total of a quarter from back office costs, and said there was “cause for concern” in the budget cuts.

“Whatever approach an organisation takes to making savings of 25 per cent or more – be it pervasive flexible working, shared services, application of Lean thinking, or e-procurement – will require investment in ICT.”

Socitm said it recognised that IT “must take its share of the pain” with regards to cuts. But it argued that for cuts to IT spending, there should be a focus on cutting “business as usual” expenditure, while maintaining or strengthening transformational capabilities.

The CIO Questionnaire: Stephan Conaway, head of ICT for Oxfordshire County Council

It advised councils to ensure they apportion project praise or blame fairly. With many failed projects being blamed on IT, it warned that this “saps the credibility” of the department, limiting the investment it will receive and the ability to help deliver efficiency schemes.

Service managers instead needed to take “full responsibility” for improving business processes, it said, recognising that IT was one investment they make to help achieve the changes.

Among benchmarking results studied by Socitm, the top performances came from IT staff's customer service skills and user understanding, their ability to fix problems and their technical competency. Areas needing attention included IT training for users, downtime, and clarity for users over hardware and software fitness for purpose.