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The pay gap between public and private sector IT staff is closing, according to a report from the Society of IT Management (Socitm). The survey, conducted by Computer Economics Ltd, (CEL), found that local government IT pay packets are now 86 per cent of their private sector equivalents, up from 60 per cent in previous years.

The gap is closing faster in some places than others: senior managers are doing better than more junior staff, and the police and fire service have had above-average increases at 6.8 per cent and 10.2 per cent respectively. However, across the public sector, pay has climbed by an average of 5.9 per cent.

This better remuneration seems to be helping companies tackle staff retention: in 2003 a quarter of all organisations reported retention difficulties, but this was down to 17 per cent in the first half of 2004. Authorities reported similar improvements in recruitment.

The message about flexible working also seems to be getting through. This year, 94 per cent of the 160 authorities taking part in the study said they offered employees flexible working hours: a gain of 92 per cent since the last survey in 2003. Over a quarter allow staff to work from home, and 85 per cent offer job sharing.

These fringe benefits are the local authorities' trump card in competing with the private sector for the best staff, as they can't measure up on salary alone.

However, for all the positives, the reports authors recognise that it is something of a buyers market out there at the moment. Andy Roberts, chair of Socitm's Member Services Group which commissions the annual survey stresses that local authorities cannot be complacent: "Currently they are able to compete effectively in the ICT skills market, [but] they are likely to face a stiff challenge once recruitment picks up again and competition drives up private sector salaries," he argued. ®

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