Lancashire County Council serves a population of 1.1 million people. In order to ensure its IT is up to scratch it concentrates on benchmarking its IT services. The council prides itself on retaining most of its services in-house and benchmarking is part of its long term performance management.

"As long as we are seen to compete, then people felt we were providing a better service back to the county," says IS and ICT director Bill Brown. "We are not obsessively in-sourced, printing is supplied by external providers. We work exceedingly closely with the private sector, with partnerships with HP, Oracle and Vodafone."

Compass, a management consultancy has been contracted to regularly compare Lancashire ICT services with those in the financial sector in the UK, Germany and Canada. Financial companies are used as the bellwether because they are "cited as requiring exceptional availability and reliability," a spokesperson for Compass says. Compass is on a rolling contract that started seven years ago.

Early in 2010, the Red Rose county said it was seeking suppliers to provide up to £1.9 billion worth of IT services, which will be shared with its 12 borough councils, Cumbria County Council and other local bodies over a 10-year period.

Services covered include IT consultancy and support, technological strategic review services, project management, system integration, the development of customer relationship management software, provision of human resources systems, pension fund administration systems, data management and financial management. The deal will also address networking, provision of hardware and software, helpdesk services, user training, printing, and school IT services and related software development.

The other councils that will procure from the agreement are Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley, Chorley, Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre. Also included are Lancashire Police, Lancashire Combined Fire Authority, the University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster University.

Lancashire expects to spend £92 million annually on the services, with the other councils spending a combined total of £60 million. Lancashire police envision spending £11 million a year, Lancashire fire £2 million, and the universities will spend an annual total of up to £22 million.

"The partnership is intended to deliver medium and long term cost benefits, increased efficiency, sustainable and effective services, and improved performance delivery with the primary aim of ensuring the best possible outcomes for the citizens of Lancashire," the council stated in the contract notice.

In 2008, Compass carried out an analysis of the desktop support provided by the Lancashire ICT team. As well as using Compass, Lancashire uses Socitm to measure its services against other local authorities. Lancashire has achieved top rating from the Audit commission.

A major project was to change how the 220 IT staff were managed with one key benefit being the IT department sickness rate for the 2006 to 2007 dropping to 5.5 days per full-time employee.