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NAO says Whitehall needs 2,000 extra digital staff

24/03/17

National Audit Office report on Civil Service capability forecasts extra cost of up to £244 million per year

Central government departments will need about 2,000 extra staff in digital role at an annual cost of £145-244 million, the National Audit Office (NA) has forecast.

Whitehall street signIts new Capability of the Civil Service review says the assessment has come out of a survey of departments on the specialist skills they need, and points to one of several areas in which they believe they are not strong enough. Others include project planning, benefits realisation and contract management.

It adds that the Government Digital Service (GDS) has warned that the shortage could be even worse given the range of digital and transformation projects in the pipeline.

One of the problems the report identifies is that government does not fully understand the private sector’s capacity to supply skills. These are more scarce than it assumes for highly technical projects, evidenced by the posts not being filled in several senior recruitment competitions in 2015-16 for people with digital skills.

It warns that leaving the EU is likely to make the problem worse as the Government has staffed up two new departments to support the process. Also, the Civil Service has been reduced in size by 26% since 2006 while budgets, but not workloads, have been cut.

Need for prioritisation

Among the NAO’s recommendations are that the Government prioritises projects and transformation programmes and stop work on those for which it is not confident it has the skills in place. Every significant project should go through an assessment of the capability required for its delivery, which should be used in approving them at the start and for major changes.

Similarly, departments should assess capability requirements of ongoing operations as part of their annual business planning, and improve their workforce planning to include skills assessment.

In addition, the Cabinet Office should ensure departmental workforce plans, functional plans and single departmental plans are integrated.

By Clay Gilliland, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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