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

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.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.