Government CIOs say the coalition's cost-cutting agenda is impeding the ability of departments to improve IT skills and innovate.
In a survey of 17 central government departments by the National Audit Office, CIOs identified the recruitment freeze; strategic cost reductions; and compliance with the spending review as the key challenges facing IT.
"Austerity measures have limited our ability to obtain the level of IT skills required for our portfolio," said one government CIO.
Another outlined the continual focus on cost-out and scrutiny of spend as a key challenge. "In some ways this has helped engender a positive culture of efficiency but the constant demand for information/data is distracting," they said.
One CIO said the department was having to re-prioritise and delay its IT service enhancements as a consequence of cost efficiencies.
In the current economic climate it is likely that ICT will continue to be subject to heavy spending cuts which will inevitably include job losses, said the NAO report.
The report concluded that the ICT profession is critical to government achieving value for money from all of its business change projects.
But while individual departments complain of a depletion of IT skills, the Government Digital Services (GDS) team, tasked with moving public sector services across government to a digital by default model, is recruiting 28 new positions, including a deputy director of digital for £59,000-£117,000 per year.
Mike Bracken, director of digital, said in a blog post: "Let me be clear that we need digital talent all across government. In policy, legal, procurement and service delivery, deep digital experience in Government is scarce. So I would recommend that we see this drive not just a one-off recruitment campaign for GDS, but the start of the digital transformation of all Government services."
Bracken told Computer Weekly in September that GDS is expected to have a team of up to 200 people.
As part of its ICT Strategic Implementation Strategy, the government said it will be publishing details this month of how it hopes to improve IT skills across government.
In its ICT Strategy in March, the government acknowledged that it had become too reliant on external expertise from consultants, contractors and interim staff, as well as recruiting senior ICT managers from the private sector. "This had resulted in high costs and the skill base within government being eroded. These factors impact on the capability of the government's ICT workforce to successfully deliver ICT-enabled business change and services," said the NAO.