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IT recruitment and retention problems in local authorities have eased over the last year, according to the latest salary survey from the Society of IT Management (Socitm).

The survey, now in its fourth year, shows the rate of growth of salaries for IT staff in local authorities has increased slightly compared with 2002, while resignations have fallen, and fewer authorities have had recruitment problems.

IT workers in local authorities are still paid less than their counterparts with equivalent experience in the private sector. However the downturn of the IT sector of the economy means that fewer workers are tempted to leave the 'safe haven' working for a local authority offers for higher paid - but less secure - jobs elsewhere.

A third of local authorities (34.6 per cent) reported recruitment problems this year compared with 36 per cent in 2002 and 60 per cent in 2001. Retention problems have also eased. A little over a quarter (25.8 per cent) of councils reported retention problems this year compared with 32 per cent who admitting difficulty holding onto staff in 2001. In 2001, 45 per cent of councils reported staff retention problems.

Socitm's salary survey is conducted by remuneration specialist CEL and analyses the salaries of all ICT staff in participating authorities. This year's results, published last Friday, are based on returns from 140 local authorities (around a third of the total) covering more than 5000 staff.

The survey compares local authority salaries with all industries, using data from CEL's much larger Computer Staff Salary Survey.

The results continue to show a large gap between IT salary levels in local government and elsewhere. The gap is widest at the very senior levels, where IT directors may be paid as much as 40 per cent less than their private sector counterparts.

Differentials between directors and the managers below them are also significantly higher in the private sector. For instance an IT director in the private sector is paid nearly double that of a 'second tier' manager in the organisation. In the public sector the 'second tier' manager is paid around 66 per cent of a Director's salary.

The survey confirms that fringe benefits continue to be an important part of the remuneration package on offer from local authorities. The 2003 survey shows that among local authority employers: 92 per cent offer flexible working hours; 75 per cent offer job sharing; 71 per cent have a structured training and development plan for all staff and a quarter (25 per cent) allow selected staff to work from home.

The relatively good job security and pension benefits available to local authority IT staff help compensate for lower take home pay, Socitm concludes.

However, Andy Roberts, chair of Socitm's Member Services Group, warned that local authorities must not be complacent about salaries.

Roberts said: "The public sector is currently enjoying the benefits of difficult conditions elsewhere - when the economy picks up and competition for skilled staff increases, the private sector will increase salaries, and we will find our recruitment and retention problems will worsen once again." ®

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