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UK's big-spender councils shovel IT workers into a skip

West Sussex County Council axes 9-in-10 techies

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A number of the UK's largest councils have significantly cut their IT workforce in recent years, according to local government figures.

According to figures published in response to freedom of information requests by Guardian Government Computing by some of the highest spending local authorities on IT in the UK, several councils have seen double-digit falls in their IT headcount.

West Sussex County Council recorded the biggest dip with a 90 per cent drop in IT staff between 2008-09 and January 2012. ICT employees working directly for the council fell from 138 to 12 over the period as staff were part of a two-phase TUPE transfer in 2010 and 2011 that saw employees being transferred to an outsourcing company.

The authority also revealed that it made 14 people redundant between 2008 and 2012, which it attributed to internal service redesigns.

Hertfordshire council's average IT headcount fell by 22 per cent between 2008-09 and January 2012, going from 22 to 17. There were also between one and five voluntary redundancies in 2008-09, and the same range in 2010-11. The authority could not give an exact figure, as it would not disclose numbers below five.

Similarly, Leeds council recorded a 17 per cent cut to its IT employees. It had 323 IT staff in 2008-09, but by 2011-12 this number had dropped to 268.

Devon County Council revealed that the number of IT staff working at the authority had been cut by 14 per cent - dropping from 173 in 2008-09 to 149 in 2011-12. A total of 24 members of IT staff were made redundant during the same period.

Norfolk Council said that it has cut its IT headcount by 12 per cent. Staff fell from 261 in 2008-09 to 229 by December 2011. The local authority also said that seven people were made redundant over the same period.

Staffordshire County Council reported a relatively small fall of 3 per cent. It had 333 IT staff in 2008-09, dropping to 322 in 2011-12. It disclosed that seven IT staff had been made redundant since 2008-09.

Guardian Government Computing surveyed 16 of the biggest spending councils on their IT staff numbers for 2008-09 and 2011-12. The overall headcount at the 12 councils which provided like-for-like figures fell from 2,258 in 2008-09 to 2,192 – a 3 per cent decline.

Of the 12, six reported a fall. A further four other authorities responded, but were unable to provide like for like figures. Durham logged a 15 per cent decline in ICT staff between 2009-10 and January 2012, while Cornwall saw a dip of 12 per cent between 2009-10 and 2011-12. Hampshire said its ICT employees fell by 9 per cent between 2010-11 and January 2012.

Wiltshire however recorded a 4 per cent increase in ICT staff between 2009-10 and 2011-12. It was not the only council to do so, with a number of councils recording rises in ICT employees:

  • Essex County Council's average IT headcount rose by 69 per cent between 2008-09 and 2011-12, increasing from 85 to 144. The council's core IT services were supplied by BT up until August 2009, when 69 staff were part of a TUPE transfer to Essex county council employment. The council made 11 members of staff redundant during the same period.
  • The number of ICT staff at Derbyshire Council went from 189 in 2008-09 to 227 in 2011-12 – a 20 per cent rise. There were also three voluntary redundancies between 2009-10 and 2011-12.
  • Nottingham City Council recorded a 12 per cent increase in its IT headcount. It had 123 staff in 2008-09, with the figure rising to 138 in 2011-12. The local authority made 23 people redundant over the period.
  • Kent said IT employees increased by 11 per cent, rising from 319 in 2008-09 to 355 by the end of December 2011. The local authority recorded 26 redundancies during the same period.
  • Bristol Council's ICT headcount rose from 168 in 2008-09 to 179 in 2011-12. There were 25 redundancies at the council between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
  • The number of IT staff at Surrey Council went from 143 in 2008-09 to 152 by January 2012.

According to public sector market intelligence service Kable, spending on IT staff within local government is set to fall further over the coming years. Its research forecasts staff costs will drop from £785m in 2012-13 to £739m in 2016-17 - a decline of 7 per cent in four years.

However, the cuts may not be as stringent as first anticipated, Michael Larner, senior analyst at Kable, told Guardian Government Computing.

"Some of the staff savings will not necessarily come entirely from the traditional IT department. Individual service directorates employ their own IT staff, sometimes unknown to the central department, supporting software applications specific to the department, for example," said Larner.

The local government numbers follow a previous Guardian Government Computing report into IT staff numbers at major central government departments, which found a 9 per cent decline in headcount over the last four years.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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