IT upgrade spouts 9% rate increase

Moves by Sydney Water to introduce a nine per cent rate increase follows hot on the heels of figures released in the recent NSW budget showing expenditure on its business systems upgrade has escalated 520 per cent since 1998.

Sydney Water's $310 million IT upgrade is the largest works program announced in the state's budget and is bigger than any NSW sewerage or water scheme.

Accusing Sydney Water of introducing a nine per cent rate rise to finance its $260 million increase in IT expenditure, opposition spokesman John Brogden said the budget blowout isn't justified.

"There is something very wrong when Sydney Water is spending more capital funds on administration than sewerage and water supply projects," he said.

According to budget figures $50 million was allocated to improving Sydney Water's business systems in 1998/99, this increased to $187.5 million in 1999/00 and $310 million has been made available for 2000/01.

A spokesman for NSW Water Minister Kim Yeadon confirmed the increase but pointed out the $310 million is to cover projects up to the year 2010. He said the IT works are long overdue as it is the first major systems upgrade undertaken by Sydney Water since the 1970s. "We're not just talking about computers on desks here. It's a new way of managing information for more than one million customers as well as the management of $1 billion in assets," Yeadon's spokesman said.

The expenditure covers three major projects that started last year under the supervision of Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

They include the development of a customer service database as well as a financial management system and an asset acquisition and management system.

"The new system will allow for regional interface and basically a better and secure network," the spokesman said.

"The overhaul also aims to prevent an ad-hoc upgrade undertaken in stages without any real planning."

The spokesman and Sydney Water were unwilling to provide details on the IT contracts.

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