Plugging Whitehall’s digital skills gap could cost £213m, says NAO boss

Employing all of the digital specialists required to plug the government’s digital capability gap would cost £213 million, the comptroller and auditor general and National Audit Office boss Amyas Morse has said.

Amyas Morse said that government needs 2,800 digital specialists – Photo credit: Photoshot

In a speech at the Institute for Government last night, Morse said that the government would need to find around 2,800 staff with digital skills to complete all its digital change projects.

“At present, the government’s portfolio of major projects is enormous,” Morse said. “The Infrastructure and Projects Authority suggests between 70% and 80% of their projects are transformation projects with a large digital element.”

These projects, he said, had the potential to transform national infrastructure and public services, but the civil service was “being asked to deliver them at a time when Westminster departments have ever smaller workforces”.

He was critical of a “muddling through” attitude at “the expense of a real business-like managerial approach to policy implementation”.

Doing things well, he continued, is more complicated than it used to be, and the activities of government are more interdependent and more technical.

They require people with the skills to get them right, Morse said, but there were large capability gaps in the civil service, particularly in digital.

“If government managed to employ all of the digital specialists required as permanent civil servants, it would cost £213 million to fill the gap. And it would be roughly double that in contract labour,” he said.

Morse added that, in the face of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, the civil service had much more on its plate, having been set a “Herculean task”.

As such, he said that it had to “stop doing things that are not mission-critical”, and asked whether it was “reasonable to plough on with” department reform plans that are currently underway.

Morse said that – using his experience of watching the public sector – with Brexit, a potential ‘Scotxit’, and the government’s massive major projects portfolio, “the system could come to a halt under its own weight”.


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