IT holds key to public sector efficiency targets

The public sector must follow the lead of business and use IT to streamline back-office functions such as finance in a order to meet government efficiency targets.

The call for better use of technology in areas such as e-procurement and shared services centres for transaction processing, came from public sector experts speaking at The Exchange for Public Sector conference.

Technology initiatives, like those implemented in the private sector, could help local governments meet the £6.45bn savings targeted by the Gershon Review over the next three years, according to experts.

Colin Whitehouse, senior e-government adviser to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, claimed that use of procurement technology could save local authorities more than ‘£1bn a year’.

For example, FDs could implement purchasing cards – restricted-use credit cards given to staff to make purchases such as stationery ð- that replace the high cost of processing an invoice with a bill.

But he warned that these projects would fail unless board members understood and agreed to plans. ‘Procurement has gone up the agenda, but you’ll make little progress on new project take-up unless you have buy-in at the senior level,’ said Whitehouse.

He added that authorities are having ‘big problems’ managing both day-to-day activities and changes in back office procedures. Staff require leadership from ‘the top down’.

Sheila Pringle, a director of the finance transformation team at Deloitte, urged the public sector to ‘free up’ staff from finance transaction processing duties to offer better services to customers.

Pringle thought the savings required from Gershon’s government efficiency targets could be delivered through the use of shared services. She argued that staff working from one centre would be more efficient than having a single process operated across different offices.

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