UK Government’s Digital Progress at Risk due to Inadequate Resourcing in Digital Skills

by | Oct 1, 2023

The UK government is currently hindered in its plans for digital transformation due to a shortage of digital skills within the civil service. Only 4.5% of the workforce consists of digital, data, and technology professionals, less than what is needed. This poses challenges in providing modern public services and safeguarding against cyber threats.

The lack of digital skills has prompted calls for action across Whitehall. Departments are urged to assess the consequences of this shortage and take immediate steps to address it. These steps include scaling back programs, being transparent about delays, and strategically investing in attracting and retaining skilled professionals. However, limited budgets and competition with the private sector present obstacles.

Dame Meg, a Labour MP who chaired an inquiry into this matter, has expressed concern over the slow pace of digital transformation within the government. She emphasized that the current rate of change is insufficient to keep up with the evolving digital landscape.

One area of concern highlighted by the inquiry is the scarcity of cyber-security experts. Committee chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier warned that this should alarm the government. With an increasing number of cyber threats targeting government systems, the lack of expertise in this area poses a risk to national security.

The inquiry report also revealed that the shortage of digital skills is worsened by staff shortages and a lack of support, accountability, and focus from top-level management. The report suggests that departments need to increase their digital workforce by over 10% and improve access to digital training. In addition, specialist digital and data roles should be rewarded with better pay, which can be achieved by reinvesting savings from increased efficiency.

While the government has taken steps to enhance cyber-security skills, such as increasing training and developing expertise, these measures alone are insufficient to address the broader issue of under-resourcing digital skills within the civil service.

The inquiry report recommends that each government service should have a senior and experienced “single owner” responsible for its digital transformation. It also suggests that digital responsibilities should be explicitly included in the letters of appointment for senior positions across all departments.

Despite the government’s claims of ambitions for digital transformation, the report suggests that the current approach of making small changes to save money will ultimately result in higher costs in the long run. By relying on outdated legacy systems, the government risks falling behind in the advancing digital landscape.

Experts have concerns that the government’s digital transformation efforts may be derailed by competing pressures and priorities. Without a comprehensive and strategic approach to addressing the shortage of digital skills, the government’s ability to deliver efficient and modern public services will remain compromised.

In response to these concerns, a spokesperson from the Cabinet Office stated that the government has a comprehensive program in place for recruiting and retaining technical skills and training civil servants in the vital digital skills required. However, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will be sufficient to bridge the digital skills gap within the civil service.

In conclusion, the UK government is facing a shortage of digital skills within the civil service, hindering its digital transformation efforts. Urgent action is necessary to address this issue, including investing in digital training, expanding the digital workforce, and prioritizing cyber-security expertise. Failure to do so may result in further delays and missed opportunities, ultimately hindering the government’s ability to keep pace with the digital age.