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Government must hurry to recruit digital skills needed for Brexit, says PAC

Skills required to prepare for leaving the EU are in “short supply” and the government must deal with its capability challenge, says Public Accounts Committee report

The government skills shortage, including the lack of digital skills, must be addressed to support the UK’s exit from the EU, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

The PAC report on exiting the EU said the civil service needs to address the lack of skills urgently, pointing out that the current process has been “too slow”.

“The Department for Exiting the European Union and the Cabinet Office do not have a robust enough plan to identify and recruit the people and skills needed quickly,” the report said.

The PAC added that as Brexit will require new IT systems and infrastructure, the “scale of work is substantial and must be completed at pace”.

“The skills required to manage these tasks, particularly in the specialisms of project management, digital and commercial, were already in short supply in government before the need to prepare for Brexit,” it said.

Another PAC report, published in December 2017, found that of the 85 IT systems at the UK border, 30 will need to be replaced or changed because of Brexit. Meanwhile, a National Audit Office (NAO) report found that nearly half of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Brexit workstreams involve IT, with many of the projects still in their very early stages.

The government skills issue is longstanding, and the PAC said projects are often tackled without departments having the right skills in place.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure this pattern is not repeated for Brexit,” the report said, adding that the Cabinet Office has admitted it does “not have all the people today who we need to build all the things we have to”.

PAC deputy chairman Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the government “has identified over 300 workstreams to complete as a consequence of the UK’s departure from the EU – a byzantinely complicated task with the potential to become a damaging and unmanageable muddle”.

He added: “It is concerning that government departments still have so far to go to put their plans into practice. The real world will not wait for the government to get its house in order.”

Last month, Government Digital Service (GDS) chief operating officer Alison Pritchard highlighted the need for digital, data and technology (DDaT) skills across government departments, particularly in relation to Brexit.

Last year, the 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.

“Having common job descriptions had enabled the Cabinet Office to run central recruitment campaigns for these roles and some of the other specialist skills needed to support Brexit,” the PAC report said. “It believed that this was ‘much more efficient’ than each department having to do its own recruitment round.”

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