National strategy for local government IT aims to harness benefits of collaborative procurements

Out-Law News | 12 Jun 2014 | 11:58 am | 2 min. read

Local authorities in the UK are to be encouraged to better coordinate IT procurements so as to realise cost savings and take advantage of innovative new technology.

The Local Government Association's (LGA's) national IT strategy (18-page / 1.08MB PDF) has outlined plans to help local authorities identify opportunities to pool their expertise and buying power when engaging with suppliers.

A national ICT category management programme (NICTMP), established in 2013, will "support councils procure the necessary technology systems and tools more cost effectively to enable them to deliver local public services that provide value for money".

The LGA's strategy said that NICTMP will help local authorities become more intelligent buyers and help them to procure IT in collaboration with other councils wherever possible. It will also drive plans to coordinate local government's IT expenditure in an effort to achieve up to 20% annual savings in the next five years.

NICTMP will also aim to get chief information officers and business managers at local authorities to manager important IT supply chains in a more "systematic and collaborative" way. This will ensure that local authority outputs align with "policy objectives on SME access, localism and digital service delivery for citizens", it said.

NICTMP will also look to disrupt the existing supply market to help new digital public services be delivered on the basis of open standards and interoperable systems, the strategy said. New suppliers will emerge and opportunities such as the deployment of open source technology could also be explored, it said.

NICTMP will help identify "national and regional collaborative opportunities" for local authorities on IT projects and help coordinate "collaborative opportunities, shaping and conditioning the supply market and coordinating the delivery of specific projects which deliver the policy, commercial and operational goals of Local Government", the LGA's strategy said.

Local authorities will not be forced to participate in the collaborative projects where they are not willing to do so, it said.

However, for the LGA's national IT strategy ambitions for the local government sector to be realised, there needs to be "significant behavioural, market and technological change".

Generally, local authorities have concentrated their IT spending with "a few large suppliers", and spent the remainder of their budgets "across a large tail of other providers", the LGA's paper said. There has also been "comparatively low use" made of "formal contracting mechanisms and national frameworks" by the authorities when procuring IT products and services, it said. These factors have resulted in wide variances in the prices the bodies have paid for "similar items".

Over the past two years, however, 33 local authorities in London have been engaged in a partnership scheme to better collaborate the way they manage their IT. The Crown Commercial Service said that the project saved £2.45 million it is first year as it "successfully introduced a focus on technology and innovation, commercial improvements through supplier relationship management and new procurements".

"There is a clear direction of travel being pursued in the local government sector that is aligned with central government's own digital agenda, and this is to be welcomed," IT contracts expert Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said. "The government's digital agenda focuses on integrating and coordinating back office functions so as to deliver both cost savings and a better experience for the users of public services."

The LGA's strategy addresses also issues of governance of the NICTMP and its policy delivery. The plans include increasing the engagement of local authorities with the 'G-Cloud' programme, increasing transparency over local government's IT arrangements with suppliers, and establishing a new 'knowledge hub' for sharing documents and improving communications.

"To some extent services managed and delivered by local authorities have a greater direct impact on the day to day lives of individuals than those provided by central government departments," Colvin said, "It is therefore critical that users are put at the centre of these services. Initiatives aimed at improving the citizen's experience and increasing take up of local government digital services are key to pushing forward the digital initiative."