IT workers in the UK's public sector are getting better pay rises and a wider range of benefits than their counterparts in private firms. They also generally stick with the same organisation longer, according to a new study carried out by Computer Economics Limited (CEL) for the Society of IT Management (Socitm).

While pay is generally not as high as in the private sector, that gap has narrowed slightly in the last couple of years, the study found. Nevertheless, recruitment problems in the private sector are increasing, though they're still not as bad as in the private sector.

The study covered 88 local authorities, around 30 percent of the total, covering more than 5,000 staff, seven job levels, five job functions and more than 100 key skills. The results were compared against CEL's wider database of salaries of IT workers in the private sector.

The study suggests that rises are relatively stable in the public sector, while they're somewhat less predictable in private companies. Salaries increased by an average of 5 percent in the most recent survey, slightly higher than last year's 4.8 percent. In the private sector, by contrast, salaries went up by 4.8 percent this year, compared with 3.5 percent in 2005's survey.

Fire Services staff saw the biggest increase, at 6.7 percent, while the biggest rises by region went to Wales, also with 6.7 percent. District councils, with 3.8 percent, and the South East, with 4.5 percent, had the lowest increases.

Salaries still being significantly lower in the public sector, organisations are widely using fringe benefits to lure workers. Ninety-nine percent offered flexible working hours, up from 93 percent last year; 76 percent allowed some staff to work from home, up from 66 percent; 92 percent offered job sharing, up from 87 percent; and 86 percent had a training and development structure for all staff, up from 71 percent.

"As in past surveys, it is clear that while local authorities may not always offer the highest available salaries, the overall package of benefits is generally very attractive," said Andy Roberts, chair of Socitm's Member Services Group, in a statement. "Local government remains a good place for ICT professionals to develop their careers."

Recruitment problems are, however, getting far worse. Last year 31.3 percent had problems, and the figure has gone up to 51 percent this year, with the main problem being a shortage of suitable candidates. While more than half may sound high, the figure for the private sector this year is 74 percent, up from 58 percent last year.

Existing staff tend to stay put, with resignations at 2.2 percent, down from 3.6 percent last year, compared with 6.2 percent this year in the private sector.