“It’s a funny old place,” concedes David Wilde, gazing out of the window of his office overlooking the Regent’s Canal near Lisson Grove in the Paddington area, and surrounded by densely planted columns of flats.
He points to a map, noting the concentrations of retail properties in the West End, financial services boutiques and assorted gazillionaire mansions in Mayfair, and the crammed patches of residential areas. It’s an area that includes internationally known sights such as the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street, Covent Garden, Knightsbridge and Soho and the only relief from teeming humanity comes from the lovely open spaces of Regent’s, Hyde and St James’s parks, before meeting its southern boundary at the Thames.
The “funny old place” he’s talking about is the City of Westminster, the ancient heart of London that is technically distinct from, and yet still central to, England’s capital. It’s a monster of a place that’s physically not that large but flexes its mighty chest to accommodate locals’ and visitors’ demands to shop, conduct business, sightsee, walk its paths and breathe in the vast history and heritage of the area. Its population is fewer than 250,000 but this swells to about a million in the daytime, doesn’t contract until late and begins to re-inflate in the small hours.
Wilde is the CIO of Westminster City Council which has a staff of 2,800 compared to an average of 5,000 in London’s other 32 boroughs.
With budgets being slashed across the public sector as almost the first act of the coalition government, the elephant on the table is, of course, funding. So I ask Wilde how he is bearing up under the strain.
Getting ahead of the game
Not too badly, might be the short answer as Wilde, like many, anticipated that whatever the outcome of the general election, cuts would have to be made to patch up an economy ravaged by the banking collapse. He says he got “ahead of the game” by planning for change a year or more previous to our meeting. “The economy was the economy and whoever got voted in was going to do some fundamental things,” he says with a characteristic calm and ready smile.
Of course, the Tory line was that a huge amount of saving could be made just by reducing wastage and removing red tape, so just how deep is the slashing?
“These are fundamental cuts,” he insists. “Our capital expenditure is now 50 per cent of what it was two years ago when I arrived. In terms of operating expenditure, headcount is down and we’re reshaping IT service provision. We’ve taken £2m out of our [annual IT] budget and there will be a further £1m this year.”
OK, so name the kind of project that has gone. Wilde points to collaboration and reformed plans to extend intranet and extranet usage as a key example of a programme that has had to be halved in scope because of the hard facts of the economy and hard numbers required.
Also, plans for a dedicated EDRM document and records management system had to be changed as “we don’t have the luxury of buying off the shelf”. Sharepoint is being used instead.
More generally, “there’s less of trying things out and it’s much more about rigour” to get things right at the first time of asking. But Wilde doesn’t appear to be a glass-half-empty character and even if he doesn’t buy the line that CIOs love a budget challenge, he agrees that creativity can be unleashed when sharp changes of approach are required.
For more of CIO's interview with David Wilde, click on the links below: