Hi-tech plans to modernise public sector

The biggest increase in public spending in 30 years sees technology at the heart of plans to modernise the public sector and bring service levels in line with European rivals.

Issues singled out for IT budget increases include education, benefits payments, local government, Customs & Excise and small-business services. The biggest single winner is the criminal justice system. With an extra £650m over three years to streamline case management, it takes the project’s total budget to nearly £1bn.

The Treasury announcement also revealed plans for a cross-departmental IT joint budget to administer the project across agencies as diverse as the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service, and the probation and prison services. Central to the programme is the development of a single electronic case file accessible across the sector.

Michael Wills, parliamentary under secretary for criminal justice system IT, said: ‘There is tremendous potential for IT to contribute to the reform, modernisation and joining-up of the criminal justice system. The scale of this investment shows the emphasis we put on this element of our work and will help support a criminal justice system that is effective in reducing crime and protecting the public.’

The figures released recently do not include the extra £1bn for NHS IT that was announced in last April’s Budget.

Boosted commitment to technology investment is positive but efficiency may suffer without a clear strategic framework, said Confederation of British Industry head of e-business Jeremy Beale. ‘The government is spending a pretty good amount on IT, between £3bn and £5bn excluding the NHS, but it tends to be a bit fragmented and we need an overall strategy.’

Parliamentary lobby group Eurim, secretary general Philip Virgo said: ‘The main thing is whether the IT industry and suppliers are capable of delivering reliable systems.’

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