There seemed to be more news about the Comprehensive Spending Review (CRS) before it happened rather than after.
It was heralded by a review of government expenditure by Sir Philip Green which attracted significant publicity for the fact that different government departments paid different amounts of money for laptops. Sir Philip’s criticisms were condemmed by many as being overly simplistic and poorly researched – for example, different laptops presumably do different jobs?
Another simple approach to reducing ICT expenditure had already been undertaken in the months leading up to the CRS. This was the much publicised series of interviews conducted by Francis Maude with the top 20 ICT suppliers to HMG during which he apparently asked them to ‘share some of the pain’ by discounting the services they provide. Some of those asked reacted by putting pressure on their suppliers. This intriguing response perhaps indicates an uncomfortable feeling on the part of some civil servants that ICT suppliers are making super-normal profits at the expense of the public purse.
When the day arrived and the detail was announced, the overall magnitude of the ‘cuts’ was under 20% – less than the anticipated 25%. Whilst severe, many of the cuts were as anticipated. From a central perspective, those departments with a proliferation of associated Not for Profit Department Bodies (e.g. Department of Culture, Media and Sport) felt the knife more than others, such as the Department of Work and Pensions. In Local Government, central funding will be reduced but Local Authorities will have more autonomy on how funds are spent. From an ICT perspective there will be an increased focus in areas such as outsourcing and payment by results with some specific focus on hard to reach and disadvantaged groups of citizens where mobile working solutions could have a significant impact.
Similarly in the Emergency Services and Criminal Justice arena, spending on courts, legal aid and prisons has been reduced as anticipated and in the Police sector the process of developing infrastructure solutions based on shared services is likely to increase.
In Healthcare, spending will be maintained at about the same levels as today – in real terms any increase is very modest. Similarly in education there is some good news for schools but the lifting of the cap on tuition fees as a way to make the books balance has caused the predictable response from those who it will affect the most.
At a time when the cuts in spending risk being dwarfed by the contribution HMG plan to make to assist the financial crisis in Ireland, ICT suppliers are working out strategies to respond to the post CSR messages coming from the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group. In the main this is about getting very serious about how ICT can contribute to efficiently run public services. Apart from perhaps some of the big ICT programmes in Central Government, the spending review indicates that ICT really has to step up to the mark and deliver real hard cash savings through innovation.
So for ICT suppliers, now is the time to quit the indulgent rhetoric about how ICT can enable business transformation, true shared service and new ways of working and demonstrate what can be achieved with some real examples.
For their part, the best that Public Sector, and particularly the Efficiency and Reform Group, can do to help this is to facilitate some equally innovative and more open procurement routes to enable such solutions to be purchased quickly, easily and confidently.Comprehensive Spending Review – shall we sulk or celebrate?