One in five digital roles at Defra unfilled, minister claims

Minister at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs indicates that 240 digital, data and technology jobs – out of a total full time workforce of almost 1,300 – are currently vacant

About one in five digital, data and technology posts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are currently unfilled, a minister has indicated.

The digital operations of the department and its arm’s-length bodies, there are almost 1,300 full-time equivalent positions, according to farming minister Mark Spencer. In response to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, the minister revealed that about a fifth of these are currently vacant.

“Defra’s Digital, Data and Technology Services has 240 approved vacancies,” he said. “This represents 19% of 1,285 full time equivalent. 206 of these vacancies are roles on the Government Digital and Data [Profession Capability] Framework.”

Spencer and his ministerial colleagues have faced series of questions in recent weeks concerning the department’s tech infrastructure – which was the subject last year of a Public Accounts Committee report titled Tackling Defra’s ageing digital services.

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This week another Labour MP, Samantha Dixon, asked “how much of the £871mi allocated in the 2021 Spending Review to be spent by Defra on digital investment over three years has been spent” to date.

In response, Spencer indicated that as much as half of this money or more is still to be invested.

“At least £381.5 million of the £871m allocated in the 2021 Spending Review to be spent by Defra on digital investment has been spent as of 31 December 2023,” he said. “Approximately £134m of the £871m was allocated to ALBs for their own IT expenditure and so is monitored through individual ALB finance processes rather than central Defra finance.”

A National Audit Office report from December 2022 found that about one in three of the nearly 2,000 applications in use across Defra and its main arm’s-length agencies were no longer supported by the supplier.

Recent comments from Spencer revealed that an £80m programme to address cybersecurity risks has so far tackled critical legacy technology issues in more than 180 software applications.

Sam Trendall

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