Local county councils are wasting millions of pounds buying disparate software and solutions while the government's G-Cloud shared services technology purchasing scheme is overlooked, according to a new study.
Bull Information Systems found that councils are spending big, but badly, via a series of Freedom of Information requests. The 26 county councils surveyed spent £440m on information technology during the last financial year, including staff salaries, outsourcing, software and hardware. However, only around a tenth of that figure - £385,000 - was spent over the same period on cloud systems, and this was spread among 12 separate services.
The company has urged the government to communicate the benefits of its cloud programme in a much clearer way to encourage more use of the G-Cloud.
"Councils are currently spending vast sums on IT and employing an army of staff to manage these systems. So the big question is how can they get their technology budgets under tighter control?", said Andrew Carr, chief executive for Bull UK & Ireland.
"In our experience, one of the biggest hidden costs of IT comes from spend on legacy systems. So it's worrying that our research reveals that a number of councils have no handle on how much they spend on legacy systems and that some don't see this as an important issue."
Money would be better spent on G-Cloud and its offered technologies, Carr maintained, but many people do not realise this.
"If councils are running systems that are no longer supported by the manufacturer, that is naturally a risk, but is that risk acceptable for statutory services?", he said.
"Even where solutions that are two or more years old are still being supported, there are likely to be more efficient systems available that could act as more cost-efficient, better-performing upgrades.
"It is difficult to argue with the core principles behind the G-Cloud and in theory it offers the natural next step to greater efficiencies for councils, giving them the chance to reduce spend on their own hardware and software and just buy the exact amount of computing resources they need."
The blame lies not with the county councils, according to Carr, but with a "flawed" government procurement process.
"The red tape surrounding public sector procurement means councils are often tied into long-term contracts with large enterprise suppliers and therefore are not flexible enough to take on such a major transformational change," he said.
"Also, public sector staff often lack experience in procurement, expertise in the solutions themselves, and critically the drive to disrupt the status quo.
"This is reflected in the results so far achieved by the G-Cloud which highlight that, although the service is now two years old, most UK councils have not used the system to procure any services.
"County councils either don't understand the potential benefits of the G-Cloud or are just simply underwhelmed by it altogether."
Spending watchdog the Major Projects Authority recently gave the government G-Cloud ambitions a red warning flag, meaning action is needed if it is to achieve its aims, according to a report at Outlaw.com.
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