Recruiting IT staff is critical to Whitehall's digital transformation

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), the UK government will have to recruit 2,800 IT staff to meet the growing demand for digital skills over the next five years.

NAO chief Amyas Morse gave a speech on 21 July to the Institute for Government in which he said the civil service is “over committed” as a result of the £405 billion in major projects that are currently under way.

Morse played up the “digital capability gap” that will likely end up costing hundreds of millions of pounds to overcome, saying: “When it comes to skills, today's civil service needs people who can carry out highly technical projects with large digital and behaviour change components. Government needs to find around 2,800 staff with the digital skills to undertake its digital change projects over the next five years. If government managed to employ all of the digital specialists required as permanent civil servants, it would cost £213m to fill the gap. And it would be roughly double that in contract labour.”

To prevent widening the digital capability gap, Morse has appealed to the government to reduce the number of major projects it is currently working on and instead to prioritise which need to be completed first. The UK's exit from the EU will take up considerable time and resources that will no doubt lead to many of these projects not being completed or being completed haphazardly.

Morse stressed the need to reduce the country's obligations, saying: “If we are over-committed, we need to lighten the load – and that means stopping doing things. This can be done by not adding projects, or by cancelling existing ones.”

“Prioritising is about making these choices intelligently. So we need to know how much scarce resource would be released by a particular decision and what consequences that decision would have elsewhere. Departments should routinely keep track of these priorities and recognise wider government needs when called on.”

Currently large scale-digital transformation projects are underway in every major Whitehall department and if they are to be successful, than the government will have to recruit the necessary IT staff to see them through.

Prioritising which projects should come first will also raise the chances of a successful digital transformation across the UK's government.

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