Government has 8,000 IT staff heavily outsourced model

The government has 8,000 in-house IT staff working in Whitehall, four times the entire number employed by Facebook, a Computer Weekly investigation into IT spend across Whitehall has revealed.

The government has 8,000 in-house IT staff working in Whitehall, four times the number employed by Facebook, a Computer Weekly investigation into IT spend across Whitehall has revealed. 

The figure of 8,000 is despite the government having outsourced 70% of its IT roles during the 1990s.

The findings reveal the total number of IT staff in government for the first time, as Whitehall has failed to measure the number of staff working on client-side IT. However, the number could be higher as not all 23 departments included agency staff in their response to Computer Weekly’s Freedom of Information requests.

Government sources estimate that total average yearly costs, including pensions, benefits and workplace accommodation spend, per IT employee is around £60,000, which means Whitehall could be spending around £0.5bn on IT staffing costs per year. If this figure is extrapolated across the whole of the public sector total staffing costs for IT could be as high as £6bn.

The staffing number raises questions as to why the government has such a poor reputation for innovation despite having a large IT workforce, and whether IT staffing resources are being used effectively.

Philip Virgo, chair of information alliance group EURIM, said 8,000 IT staff should be a sufficiently critical mass to enable the government to get good value from developing IT in-house. “I am a firm believer in the fact that government outsources far too much, and that in-house development is a far better way of delivering value,” he said.

“If we were to retrain those individuals in handling open source software with the latest rapid development techniques we should be able to get a really good set of operations going, because we’ve  got the numbers there. That’s something we could do in parallel with the transition of systems on to the G-Cloud and cross fertilise expertise [across different areas of IT in government] to get extra value,” he said.

John Serle, director at body for public sector IT professionals Socitm, has been conducting research into the number of IT staff in local government for 20 years. He said central government has systematically failed to measure its number of staff and the value derived from outsourcing roles.

“Speaking to the Cabinet Office and NHS, they don’t seem to know the total number of IT staff they have. In the same way when giving evidence to select committee they didn’t know how much spent on IT, the measurement of IT staff also doesn’t seem to be very important to them,” he said.

Central government has a tendency to work in silos, which has led to the duplication of IT roles, said Serle. “There are far too many IT people employed in the services side of the business. It has been a people-intensive business for a long time and is absolutely crying out for further automation. We have been saying for some time that there are far too many IT staff,” he said.

In a Public Accounts Select Committee report, which described the amount of money wasted on IT in government as “obscene”, weakness in the way government exploits IT in its delivery of public services was highlighted as a key problem. “Much government IT expertise was outsourced in the 1990s. The government now lacks a cadre of high-quality in-house IT professionals,” said the report.

Read more on IT for government and public sector