The Department for Work and Pensions needs to recruit 50 IT experts to support its plans for developing Universal Credit and other digital systems.
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The task falls to DWP’s new director general of digital transformation, Kevin Cunnington, and while his team is not solely responsible for Universal Credit (UC), it will play a major role in delivering the government’s flagship welfare reform.
Other projects, such as the single-tier state pension scheme, are also dependent on the recruitment programme.
The figure was revealed in response to a parliamentary question from Labour’s shadow minister of state for employment, Stephen Timms. He asked: “How many software developers are the department currently seeking to recruit for its digital service in order to build the universal credit end-state system and other software projects, and what contingency plan is in place in case it is unable to fill them all?"
In response, DWP minister Esther McVey, said: “We are confident that the necessary skills and expertise will continue to be in place to deliver the UC online service. It has always been the intention that the department would complete the work to develop the UC digital service, building on the work of GDS [Government Digital Service].
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“That's why we have already strengthened in-house expertise, including appointing former Vodafone director of global online, Kevin Cunnington, to lead the development of our digital service and will be recruiting around 50 IT specialists. This has always been in the plan for completing the digital service and therefore there are no additional costs for recruitment.”
McVey did not answer Timms’ question about contingency plans should the DWP be unable to fill those 50 jobs in time.
Recruiting 50 people with the requisite software development skills would typically take at least three months, but could take as long as nine months, according to Harry Gooding, head of client engagement at recruitment consultant Mortimer Spinks.
“If DWP gave a business like ours 50 roles to recruit exclusively, we would expect to have all of those positions filled within three to five months,” he said.
“If they gave it to multiple recruitment agencies and got them working in competition I would estimate it taking more like seven to nine months.”
The difficulty of bringing in that many IT staff with skills in digital and agile development is demonstrated by the that Cunnington is already struggling to recruit people quickly enough to meet the early deadline for the new digital system required to support Universal Credit.
He has had to ask existing IT staff to encourage people they know to apply for the jobs, according to DWP insiders, and it is possible that external suppliers may be brought in to help in the short term.