Local councils are set to spend £3bn on IT in 2007-08 – up 9% on last year, figures from the Society of IT Management (Socitm) have revealed.

The latest edition of Socitm’s IT Trends survey of IT directors in 250 local councils, police and fire authorities says: “Our assessment is that local government ICT functions have more resources than they had one year ago. This might suggest that ICT is beginning to make the transformation away from being regarded as just a support service and therefore a cost that can be cut.”

Local authorities were planning to buy “a considerable amount of new technology” in the 2007-08 financial year but the IT trends report warns: “We calculate that the amounts being purchased are not sufficient to maintain the asset base at the standard planned.”

Socitm has also highlighted a trend for purchasing more mobile devices, a finding that bears out other recent
research.

The bulk of the funding for IT was forecast to come from authorities’ investment, with efficiencies, partnerships with other authorities and redeployment the other main sources of IT resourcing, Socitm found. Borrowing had almost doubled since 2006 but remained “stubbornly low suggesting that authorities may not be convinced of the business case for IT investment”.

Efficiency and security were the top issues for local authority IT directors in 2007, the survey found. Information security costs had increased dramatically since 2006 but direct financial losses remained low.

John Serle, editor of the IT Trends 2007/08 report, said: “What is increasingly evident is that the traditional concerns of ICT management, such as choosing the right technologies, supplier management and staff recruitment and retention, have become less important in recent years.

“Efficiency, shared services and benefits realisation are the new buzzwords. It’s also encouraging to see that notwithstanding an overall more difficult financial climate in local government, ICT functions have more resources in 2007/08 than they had one year ago. This might suggest that ICT is beginning to be regarded as something worth investing in, something more than just a support service.”

IT funding is uneven across local authorities of varying sizes, and some organisations are struggling. “We argue that by pooling resources, authorities could solve this problem and get better value for money overall,” the report says.

The survey also highlighted a growing staffing problem for local authority IT departments, with staff turnover rising sharply over in the past 12 months from 14% to 23%. “This suggests that local government is no longer seen as an attractive place to work,” the report warns. Use of consultants and contract staff has increased, but this is “rarely a cost effective approach” in the longer-term, it says.