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Written by staff at Sirius Corporation, the Open Source services group, this blog seeks to dispel any FUD around the use of Open Source software in the Enterprise and provide perspectives on business, economics, politics, philosophy and the environment.

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Public sector ICT cuts - they do not have to hurt

Has Socitm got it wrong?

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This week's Economist notes that in the current climate of public sector austerity in the UK, there are two strategies under way by the various interest groups.

The first is to assess rationally and realistically how to comply with the need to cut budgets, and to come up with a plan.

The second is to expend energy on arguing why one is a 'special case' and should therefore be excluded from the cuts.

Socitm, the association for ICT professionals in the public sectors, has taken the second approach.

Cuts in Public Sector IT spending, which Socitm describes as 'Draconian', will apparently inevitably mean some loss of service. It is a shame this particular vested interest group has taken the second approach, as Public Sector IT is long overdue a massive shake-up, and everybody knows this. Let's start by examining the facts:

* Public sector spending in unsustainable, total public debt is stratospheric, and it must be reduced.

* The UK Government and Public Sector spends over £14 billion, and rising, every year on ICT. To put that in perspective this is far bigger than the entire budget for drugs across the NHS.

* The UK Government and Public Sector spends almost all of its money on expensive proprietary software, and trails all other sectors and the rest of the world in Open Source uptake.

* Spending on ICT can be simply described by spending on Hardware, Software and Services. One and two should be self-evident, three is just the know-how, consultancy, training, support and the like, that makes one and two productive.

Now let's look at Socitm's implicit assumption

* Money for Public Sector ICT needs to be spent in the same proportions in which it has always been spent, and with the same old people.

With this implicit assumption the conclusion that the burden will fall on services, which is what people actually care about, follows naturally. It also happens to be wrong.

The great opportunity that Socitm have missed is the opportunity to be a part of the solution.

It's the easiest thing in the world to complain about things, especially when money is concerned, but the facts are not going to go away and the UK really must solve its financial problems as they are not just going to be wished away.

The truth is that Open Source software, intelligently applied, can take a massive chunk out of the Software cost part of the equation. Based on the evidence from the online world it can dramatically take out costs from the services side too.

If the UK Government takes its pledge to put 25 percent of ICT spending through innovative technology SMEs it can cut even more costs from the services side. Let's face it - doesn't it just make sense to cut out cost areas rather than losing jobs or downgrading services?

Of course Socitm should know that, but as the Economist points out, route number two is easier...

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