Skills shortages identified as key risk to government digital strategy

Government Digital Service says skills shortage is one of the biggest risks to delivering more than £1.4bn of annual savings in Whitehall

The Government Digital Service (GDS) says a skills shortage is one of the biggest risks to it making more than £1.4bn of annual savings across Whitehall.

GDS has published its Business Plan for the 2014/15 financial year, listing the key activities, milestones and challenges it faces over the next 12 months. The difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff with suitable digital skills was raised frequently as a risk to many of the team’s key objectives.

In the 2010 spending review, GDS’s budget was expected to be cut from £21.1m in 2012 to £16.12m this year. But it has since taken on additional responsibilities that boosted its budget to £58.345m for financial year ending March 2015.

Despite this increase, under a section titled “Risks to the plan”, the document said: “We have insufficient funding, which could mean we’re unable to hire the people with the skills we need. We will address this by reviewing the business plan and budget quarterly so that the GDS Operations Board can take action if required.

“We have difficulty hiring and keeping skilled staff. We will address this by: making plans and processes to attract and keep the best digital and technology people; defining clear career paths; identifying development opportunities for staff; reviewing compensation and reward packages to meet market expectations.”

GDS employs 425 civil servants, mostly on fixed-term contracts, and 210 interim staff.

The plan said GDS is expected to deliver £700m in efficiency savings, much of which will come from the 25 “exemplars” – high-volume government transactions that are currently in the process of being digitised.

“Annual recurring benefits from the exemplars could be around £607m. Annual recurring benefits from other transactions related to the exemplars come to £372m. That’s a total of £979m from exemplars and associated services,” said the document.

“Across [the eight biggest] government departments, we estimate that by digitising all transactional services we could save £1.4bn every year.”

By March 2016, GDS expects to have delivered 70% of the potential savings from the exemplar services.

However, the National Audit Office recently criticised GDS over its approach to calculating IT savings made by the current government.

The business plan also documented the key milestones for GDS over the next 12 months, which included:

  • Moving HM Revenue & Customs onto the Gov.UK website platform.
  • Putting in place a pan-government directory service.
  • Public tests of the Identity Assurance scheme for secure online user accreditation.
  • Launch of the new Digital Marketplace to replace the existing CloudStore.
  • Implementing the new Cabinet Office technology strategy, intended to be open up end-user computing to new devices and operating systems, as a case study to be replicated in other departments.
  • Release of APIs (application programming interfaces) for Gov.UK content.
  • Train 150 service managers across Whitehall.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment