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UK data watchdog cut IT spending by £1.2 million during pandemic

The ICO’s IT budget has been slashed by around 23% since 2019

A view of the front of the Information Commissioner's Office in Wilmslow

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reduced its IT spending by £1.2 million over two years, despite a surge in demand for technology during the pandemic.

The ICO’s budget was most recently cut from £5,379,990 for the fiscal year (FY) 2019/20, to £5,250,720 in FY 2020/21, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request and analysed by the Parliament Street think tank.

However, the most significant cut came during FY 2021/22, when the ICO’s IT budget was slashed to £4,122,045.

This means that spending was reduced by almost a quarter (23%) in two years, despite the data protection watchdog’s February 2021 spending forecast predicting that the IT budget would “marginally increase (...) by the year end” due to “some increase[d] hardware spend".

In September 2021, the ICO also invested in a new digital assistant chatbot to help “guide customers through the data protection fee-paying journey”. Despite answering a record ​​33,773 queries in the first month since launching, interest in the chatbot has since waned, answering only 6,560 queries in April 2022.

The ICO wasn’t immediately available to comment on the reason behind its IT spending cuts. The watchdog is largely funded through data protection fees, which accounts for around 85% to 90% of the ICO’s annual budget. The remaining 10 to 15% is sourced from grants provided by the UK government.

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The ICO’s IT budget cuts are largely in line with predictions published by Gartner in August 2021, when the technological research and consulting firm stated that, despite global IT spending exceeding pre-pandemic levels in 2022, the pace of government IT spending will slow down.

Gartner researchers also found that IT infrastructure and applications modernisation, as well as digital government transformation, are the key areas that are set to fuel government IT spending in 2022. The pandemic has served to boost the pace of digital transformation in the public sector, with Gartner estimating that by 2025, more than half of government agencies will have modernised critical core legacy applications.

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