Shortage of civil service skills forces GDS to ‘rely heavily’ on temporary staff in 2016/17

Cabinet Office accounts reveal big hike in spending on interim workers to ensure key programmes are delivered

The Cabinet Office spent an additional £15m on temporary staff in 2016/17, as GDS needed extra resources to deliver some of its major initiatives

A shortage of IT skills within the civil service has forced the Government Digital Service to lean heavily on temporary workers to ensure delivery of some of biggest projects, according to the latest Cabinet Office accounts.  

The department’s annual accounts reveal that its spending on temporary staff over the course of the 2016/17 year came in at £43.8m – an increase of 54.2% on the £28.4m figure of the prior year.

“A significant proportion of the increase in spend on temporary staff can be attributed to GDS,” the Cabinet Office said. “Because of a shortage of civil servants with the appropriate IT skills, its Common Technology Services and Government as a Platform programmes have had to rely heavily on interim staff during 2016-17.”

During 2016/17 the Cabinet Office also saw a £1m increase in its annual spending on consultancy, rising to a total of almost £10.2m. Again, a dearth of necessary expertise within GDS was fingered as the reason for the extra expenditure.

“The small increase in spend on consultancy can largely be attributed to GDS,” said the Cabinet Office. “During 2016-17, it developed and began implementing a common taxonomy and career framework for digital, data and technology professionals within government, the aim being to improve the recruitment, development, and retention of staff in these professions. GDS engaged external consultants to assist with this project, because it lacked the in-house capacity and capability to deliver these products quickly.”

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In its annual performance review for GDS, the Cabinet Office said that the organisation’s Government as a Platform programme is expected to create government savings of £425m over the five-year period covered by the 2015 spending review. Three strands of the platform – Pay, Notify, and Platform as a Service – were rolled out in beta mode during 2016/17, with 47 government services already using them, the Cabinet Office said.

The department acknowledged that use of GDS’s Verify identity authentication service has lagged expectations, but asserted that it had still passed some notable milestones during the year. 

“Despite a lower-than-forecast adoption of the Verify service across government departments, GOV.UK Verify was used 2.8 million times, verifying more than one million identities and connecting its first local authority service,” the Cabinet Office said. 

Other key achievements for GDS last year were the launch of the Common Technology Services scheme, the rollout of the GovWifi wireless internet offering, the publication of the Government Transformation Strategy, and programmes aimed at revamping the content of GOV.UK and providing government departments with digital campaigns, the Cabinet Office said. 

The department also pointed to the success of the Digital Marketplace, which has already comfortably exceeded the target it had set for April 2018 of processing £2bn in revenue.

Elsewhere, a report in March from the National Audit Office pointed to savings of £1.3bn GDS had achieved through its IT spending-control programme.

“However, [the NAO report] also recognised that transformation has not been straightforward and while many government services are now available online, departments and GDS have struggled to manage complicated programmes and to improve complex systems and processes that support public services,” the Cabinet Office added. 

“GDS is reviewing the NAO recommendations and will take action for the next phase of digital transformation.”


Sam Trendall

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