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The Society of IT Management has said that public sector ICT professionals are being squeezed between a cut in budgets and increased demand for their services.

Its annual report on IT trends shows that the financial resources available to local authorities' IT teams are forecast to fall by 11% in 2009-10, involving cuts of 20% in capital spending, 16% in departmental spending and 8% in central ICT spending.

This will be accompanied by a 10% reduction in staff numbers, the only bright spot being an increase in spending on communications.

IT Trends 2009-10: Stretched to Breaking Point is based in a survey of IT professionals in local government and other local public services, and makes use of data from 390 organisations.

It says that local public service providers are focusing on strategic transformational initiatives aimed at cutting costs. These include flexible working and rationalisation of accommodation, together with business process improvement and document management.

In addition, more effort is being put into driving self-service through websites, and there is some reinvestment in customer relationship management. But funding for these investments from external sources appears to be drying up, shared service initiatives have stalled and there is little appetite to borrow money to fund ICT.

As a result, overall capacity within the ICT function to deliver improvement has decreased since Socitm's IT Trends survey of a year ago, and ICT managers say their major challenge is being asked to do more with less. Funding rather than staff shortages appears to be the limiting factor.

The report forecasts a reduction in equipment purchases, an extension of the time that organisations make use of their assets, and that public authorities will become increasingly dependent on old technology. This could mean that many staff find themselves using older, lower specification equipment in the office than at home.

Organisations will either need to find more cash to support the ageing ICT infrastructure or find new lower-cost ways of delivering ICT service.

This situation is in sharp contract to last year's survey findings, when for 2008-09 ICT spending by local authorities was forecast to increase by 5%, and authorities were planning to spend over £3.2bn on ICT in 2008-09 - overtaking the record levels achieved in 2005.

The editor of the report, John Serle, commented: "We can see how much has changed. We believe that ICT should be an area of investment to get the efficiencies and better business processes in the rest of the organisation. Coping with the large cuts will be a tough one."

He added that significant investment is needed for the transformation that will deliver savings, but that "our respondents are suffering from the perennial pressures of funding cuts alongside increased demand and are under greater pressure than ever".

This article was originally published at Kable.

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