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ICT and project management staff account for 54% of the government’s annual spend on consultants and temporary staff, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report.
The report, which looks at the government’s use of external consultants and temporary staff, found that although Whitehall’s spend has reduced by £1.5bn since 2010, it’s now on the increase with figures totalling between £400m-£600m more than they were in 2012.
ICT skills account for 11% of external resources brought in, but amounts to 25% of the spend. The NAO report found that the most common temporary specialist staff, such as developers and technical architects, are being paid an average day rate of £603 and £589 respectively.
Compared with significantly lower civil service staff costs, which are between £243 and £323 per day, the government could potentially save between £3.7m and £4.7m on developers and between £1.8m and £2.3m on technical architects, according to figures in the report.
“Two-thirds of the largest government projects are related to transformation ICT and service delivery programmes,” the report said.
It added that “significant skills shortages remain in the areas needed to transform government, including project management and ICT, which are common specialisms of consultants and temporary staff”.
In December 2015, the NAO voiced its concerns over the digital skills gap in government. Its Digital skills gap in government report, which surveyed digital and technology leaders across government departments and agencies, found there “is a widespread acknowledgment” of the digital skills gap in Whitehall.
The survey found that while several initiatives have been introduced to deal with the skills gap, there is an ongoing perception gap, where digital and technology professionals have a wider perspective of what is needed, “recognising the importance of business change, while others in their organisations have a more limited focus on IT and technology”.
Government lacks digitally skilled staff
Earlier in January 2016, the NAO also published a report that found that out of 149 major government projects with total lifetime costs of £511bn, including 40 ICT projects, a third is rated red or amber-red.
The report highlighted reasons such as a high turnover of staff and skills shortages, and found that “some of the departments with the largest portfolio have gaps in commercial and digital expertise” and often rely on contractors to fill the gaps.
Several government projects came under fire in 2015 from both the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee due to these issues.
The rural payments digital service – led by the Government Digital Service (GDS), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) – was critisiced in 2015 for its dysfunctional leadership.
The NAO’s report on the project also found that programme leaders had limited experience of managing a group of smaller suppliers on a large IT programme and “did not have the necessary skills in-house and did not know how to obtain them”. The report concluded that the programme failed to recruit the necessary skills, which was a “central cause of the failure”.
Temporary staff fill the gaps
Similarly, the e-Borders project and its successor programmes, run by the Home Office, suffered from a high level of staff turnover, relying heavily on contractors.
In May 2015, non-civil servants filled 40% of the posts in the core programme, the NAO report on the programme found.
NAO head Amyas Morse said that if used well, consultants and temporary staff could be an “important source of specialist skills and capabilities for departments that need to transform how they do business”, but that they are also very expensive.
He added that although government spend on these have reduced, it’s now on the increase, which “suggests underlying issues have not been fixed”, and said that addressing these skills and capacity gaps is essential.
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