Annual Whitehall report shows high turnover – and high salaries – for senior digital, data and technology officials

The new yearly analysis from ministers’ advisory body reveals that – despite pay packets on par with any in government – almost one in five digital leaders departed for the public sector

Newly released annual data reveals that government’s digital, data and technology profession lost almost one of five of its senior workforce to the private sector in the space of a year – despite offering the highest salaries in Whitehall.

The freshly published 2023 report from government’s Review Body on Senior Salaries (SSRB) also reveals that a special programme was created during the year to help address the digital profession’s high turnover and reduce reliance on contractors by enabling departments to increase compensation packages for the most highly-prized DDaT roles by as much as £45,000.

The latest edition of SSRB’s yearly analysis finds that, in the 2021-22 period, 18.7% of DDaT professionals in the senior civil service left government entirely.

This figure is at least three percentage points higher than every other profession – except medical, which has an external turnover rate of 29.1%  – and is 50% higher than government’s cross-profession average of 12.4%.

Conversely, the 5.3% of senior officials in DDaT roles that changed job within the civil service during the year is among the lowest rate of any government profession – suggesting that departments’ digital leaders are far more likely to depart for a role in the commercial sector than to another government agency.

In total, almost one in four top digital professionals in government moved jobs last year. This represents a major spike on the 15.2% that did so in the data presented in SSRB’s previous annual report. This included 11% that departed government altogether and 4.2% that moved from one department to another.

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The rising turnover rate among top DDaT civil servants is in spite of the profession offering among the most generous salaries in the SCS – including more examples than any other discipline of the use of special measures allowing departments to exceed the usual pay limits.

The median salary for digital and data roles at deputy director level last year was £85,000. This figure was only exceeded by the security profession – and even then only by £100. The cross-Whitehall average was £79,300.

At £128,600, DDaT also had the second highest median pay packets for director-grade posts, behind only commercial on £133,500.

The SSRB data shows that digital directors across government earn a median salary £25,000 higher than their counterparts in other professions – where the overall average is £103,600.

The annual report also reveals that there are currently 81 senior civil servants whose appointment was supported by the pivotal role allowance (PRA) programme – which was introduced 10 years ago and allows pay offers to be boosted by between £10,000 and £15,000 in order to fill critical roles. A further 44 PRA arrangements have been signed off for posts currently being recruited.

The DDaT profession is comfortably the current biggest beneficiary of the programme, according for 28% of the 81 existing PRAs – equating to 23 people. The next highest users of the scheme are the policy profession, equating for 20% of current pivotal role allowances, and science and engineering on 15%.

The SSRB report reveals that, halfway through the 2021-22 year, a dedicated PRA programme was created specifically for the most specialised DDaT roles at SCS1 and SCS2 pay grades – equating to deputy director and director-level posts.

“In September 2021, it was agreed that the digital profession could pilot a proposal for 10 bespoke PRA packages to support the recruitment and retention of highly skilled SCS1 and SCS2 digital, data and technology specialists,” the document added. “This is to help address high turnover in the digital profession and reliance on contingent labour and contractors to fill specialist SCS DDaT posts, specifically chief architects, chief technology officers, chief data officers and chief information security officers. Higher value PRAs – up to £35,000 a year for SCS pay band 1 and up to £45,000 for SCS pay band 2 – are linked to achievement of key milestones.”

Outside of the provisions of the PRA scheme, for director-general level roles across all professions, 13 other exceptional pay offers were agreed, the SSRB data reveals.

“These were most likely to be for DDaT and project delivery roles,” the report added. “The median increase agreed under the exception process for level transfer at SCS1 and SCS2 (deputy director and director) was 10% and 18% for pay on promotion. The Cabinet Office said that the introduction of capability-based pay progression and the higher pay range minimum should replace the need for pay exceptions in the longer term.”

SSRB is sponsored by the Cabinet Office as an independent non-departmental body whose role is to provide advice on public sector pay to the prime minister and other colleagues in the cabinet.

Sam Trendall

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