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Government tech spending in England more than doubles in five years

Researchers see pandemic boom in computer-related tech spend

England's public spending on information technology has at least doubled, to reach £17.3 billion ($21 billion) over the last five years, according to research.

The share of public spending on IT has also increased from 5 percent to 10 percent of total spending over the same period, procurement research organization Tussell found.

"There has never been a better time for IT companies to focus on the public sector," the company claimed in its commentary.

However, IT remains a long way behind the construction sector, for example, which leads government spending in England at 21 percent. Forty-two percent of spending goes to "other" sectors in the latest figures for 2022.

Total UK government spending in England reached £173 billion ($210 billion), down 4 percent from a year earlier. Fiscal 2020/21 was when the brunt of the pandemic hit the UK and saw public spending climb 28 percent to £181 billion ($219 billion). Last year was still markedly increased from 2016, when UK public spending was £116 billion ($140 billion), according to the research.

So not only has IT increased its share of the pie, the pie itself has grown significantly. This means that the total IT spending reached something like £17.3 billion last year – nearly three times the £5.8 billion ($7 billion) recorded for 2017/18.

Tussell collects procurement and expenditure data for contracting authorities based in England from official sources aggregated, organized and augmented by Tussell. "We have excluded the other UK nations as they are subject to different legal requirements around transparency that make like-for-like regional comparisons challenging," it said.

The ballooning of tech spending during the pandemic can partly be explained by emergency measures to cope with the spread of COVID-19. For example, the UK created a contact tracing system and associated IT platform with a budget of £37 billion ($45 billion) – although not all of that has been spent. It failed to meet one of its stated objectives of avoiding a second lockdown.

Other mega projects of new tech spending include £9.3 billion ($11.3 billion) on the much-delayed upgrade to the voice and data network supporting ambulance, police and fire workers – the so-called Emergency Service Network.

But legacy systems also create costs. An independent study by the Modernization and Reform Group found the UK government spends $2.3 billion ($2.84 billion) of its £4.7 billion ($5.81 billion) annual tech budget on "keeping the lights on activities" on "outdated legacy systems."

Last year, Yvonne Gallagher, digital director of the National Audit Office, said the problems caused by a lack of digital knowledge in senior management extended to managing and migrating from legacy systems.

"It means that whilst we have in government a lot of very experienced CIOs, sometimes they just aren't listened to because the non-digital leader can't really understand or fathom what it is that the CIO might be telling them about some of the risks and complexity involved," she said. ®

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