Funds cut as e-govt projects go it alone

20 Dec 2002

The Department of the Taoiseach has confirmed to that all e-government projects will be weaned off the Information Society Fund and from next year, departments will be required to finance their own initiatives in the area.

“Information society-type projects are increasingly becoming an inherent part of all departments’ work. Therefore, it makes sense for them to be budgeted for in departments’ own votes [ie budgets], rather than having to seek funding for them outside this process,” a spokesperson in the Department of the Taoiseach said, adding that “for this year [2003], all departments are now required to mainstream their information society projects”. As a result, “there should be a diminishing need for this type of separate funding,” the spokesperson said.

The Information Society Fund was set up by the government in July 1999 to fund e-government initiatives. For 2002, €55.9m was allocated to e-government projects, including the Reach programme and the Revenue Online Service (ROS).

Documents released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, 1997 reveal that in May 2002 discussions took place between the Department of the Taoiseach’s Information Society Policy Unit and the Department of Finance over the future role of the Information Society Fund.

“If we assume that e-government must become a mainstream element of departments’ businesses and that they must increasingly make provision themselves for ‘e’ items in their own normal [budgets], the fund should taper off, for example, say €75m for 2003, €50m for 2004 and €25m for 2005 (ie announce a new (and final) [Information Society] Fund of €150m for 2003-5),” an official at the Department of the Taoiseach wrote in an email to the Department of Finance.

Not only will the fund be tapered off, but there are clear signs that the amounts allocated to it over the coming years will be less than expected.

In May, the Department of Finance said it planned to allocate €57.8m to the fund in 2003. FoI documents reveal, however, that the Department of the Taoiseach was “strongly of the view that a pitch for anything less than €85m for 2003 would be to seriously sell the fund short”. In the end, €44.7m was allocated for 2003 and no commitment has been given to the Information Society Fund for subsequent years.

A spokesman from the Department of the Taoiseach said that: “In an ideal world, one of course would have liked to have seen a little bit more, but that is not going to happen in the current climate. Ourselves and the Department of Finance have differing views, if you like, on what would be the appropriate provision for the fund next year … they would have taken the conservative minimalist approach; we would have taken an ambitious view.”

The effect of tightening purse strings at the Department of Finance is already starting to be felt by one major e-government project. It is understood that for 2003, the ROS has been allocated €4.6m from the fund, but back in May they requested €12.5m. An ROS spokesman said that this is a ‘big reduction’ on last year’s allocation of €8.5m. “We are aware of this reduction in the fund. We are all subject to budgetary cuts,” he commented.

By Lisa Deeney