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Brexit highlights need for DDaT skills, says GDS chief operating officer

Government Digital Service’s Alison Pritchard says Brexit preparation requires more digital, data and technology professionals across departments

Digital, data and technology (DDaT) skills are highly sought-after by government departments as they prepare for Brexit, according to Government Digital Service (GDS) chief operating officer (COO) Alison Pritchard.

Speaking at the Government ICT conference in Westminster, Pritchard said it is “no secret” that the country’s looming exit from the European Union (EU) has highlighted a huge need for digital skills in government.

“DDaT professionals are scarce and in huge demand across departments,” she said, adding that GDS is working to “build capacity and capability”.

“We are doing upskilling of delivery managers through the [GDS] academy, we are doing the usual work to broker where resource might be needed in different departments, and we are opening up the marketplace as much as we can to SMEs through the use of the digital marketplace,” said Pritchard.

Last year, GDS and a cross-government team began building a framework of DDaT jobs to create consistency in pay, job roles and job grades across departments.

“In doing so, that will give us the flexibility to be able to move resource more effectively when appropriate, to spot talent and drive the function in a way we haven’t been able to do before,” said Pritchard. 

The need for digital and technology skills in preparation for Brexit was highlighted by a Public Accounts Committee report late last year, which found that of the 85 IT systems at the UK border, 30 would need to be either replaced or changed because of the UK leaving the EU.

Pritchard, who joined GDS from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last year, also highlighted the need for policy and digital professionals to “meet in the middle”. She said there is still a struggle to bring digital thinking in “at an early enough stage of policy making” so that it enables the shaping of the policy, rather than just becoming a bolt-on.

Equally, she said, there are a lot of “digital folk” who expect policy makers to jump on board the agile bandwagon as if “it’s the only show in town”. There needs to be a journey where they meet in the middle, she said.

“When I look through the EU exit lens, there’s hell of a lot of disruption to business about to occur, so how can we seize some of these opportunities to make sure the transformation from a digital perspective is not left behind?” said Pritchard. “But there are responsibilities on both sides in that regard.”

A National Audit Office (NAO) report published last December showed that Pritchard’s former department, Defra, is one of those desperately needing to embrace digital.

The NAO found that nearly half of the department’s Brexit work streams involve IT, ranging from minor updates to completely new systems, with many of the projects still in very early stages.

With 43 work streams related to the UK leaving the EU – 20 of them involving IT – the department needs to ensure it ramps up its work, the NAO said.

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