Reports published by the BBC and Computer Weekly earlier this week, based on research by IT supplier Bull, show poor understanding of how local councils procure and deploy IT, says Socitm, the association for IT and digital professionals working in local public services.
Based on FOI requests submitted by Bull to the 27 county councils in England, reports claimed that councils were ‘wasting millions’ by not using the ‘G-Cloud’, a government framework set up with the intention of enabling fast and low cost procurement of a range of commodity software and cloud services.
Bull’s data suggests that in 2012-13, county councils spent nearly £440m in total on IT services, including staffing costs, but that only £385,000, or 1% of that was going through the government’s “G-Cloud” framework.
Socitm says it does not dispute the data about the proportion of spending going through G-Cloud, but challenges the conclusions being drawn from it on the following grounds:
- Media reports based on Bull’s figures suggest that by not using G-cloud, councils are forgoing savings from using cloud services. This overlooks the fact that G-Cloud is a procurement framework, not a “cloud” in the sense generally understood of a service whereby software can be rented and hosted off site. Consequently low use of G-Cloud does not correlate with low use of cloud services, and indeed many councils are using cloud services from via other procurement frameworks or procured directly from vendors like Google.
- Much of the software used by local authorities to support key lines of business, for example systems to support planning, housing or social care services, is not available on the G-Cloud.
- The single year snapshot produced by Bull does not capture significant ‘one off’ spending via G-Cloud – for example that made by Hampshire County Council in 2011-12, when it was one of G-Cloud’s biggest users.
- Large local authorities (individually, county councils are among the largest local authorities) have significant in-house capability to provide IT infrastructure and services, a route that for some services can be more cost-effective that buying-in external services, even cloud-based services.
So, whilst local government is making less use of the G-cloud framework than its central government counterparts, that is partly because the G-Cloud (and the Government Digital Service) was established primarily to address problems with central government IT procurement and deployment practice. The PASC inquiry report said that central government’s over-reliance on large contractors for IT needs, and a lack of in-house skills, had created a ‘recipe for rip-offs’.
Socitm research suggests that G-Cloud may not always offer the most cost effective solution for councils. Kent County Council told Socitm that: ‘We have used the G-cloud to procure some software, but it is not currently able to offer the time savings, quality assurances and consistency necessary to make it effective. We have raised these issues with the Cabinet Office and believe that until these are addressed, the G-cloud does not offer the best route for sourcing software for local authorities.’
According to Martin Ferguson, Head of Policy at Socitm: ‘G-Cloud is already a useful procurement framework. However it is still in its relative infancy, as is cost effective public cloud provision for use in councils more generally. What will make the G-cloud increasingly attractive will be the flexibility to use it in ways which deliver best value and sustainable IT architectures fit for the future, especially where these impact on councils’ increasing need to join-up and deliver services with partners in Health, Police, Voluntary and other sectors. It is also the case that the biggest beneficiaries of cloud computing, and G-cloud as a procurement vehicle, are likely to be the smaller public service organisations which were not covered in the FOI research carried out by Bull.’
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