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Lack of skills main barrier to civil service tech adoption

TechUK civil servants survey highlights need for skills training, common standards and working practices across departments to deliver joined-up public services

Civil servants believe better information sharing across government will improve public services, but say lack of skills is still the main barrier to adopting digital services, according to a survey.

Trade body TechUK’s Public Services Board has published its annual civil servants survey, which found a shortage of “skills and capabilities” is the biggest problem when it comes to tech adoption across government.

“A lack of knowledge or expertise is regarded as the largest barrier to greater technology adoption in government; 57% of respondents saw it as a problem, a proportion that has increased each year,” a report on the survey said. 

One of the recommendations made by TechUK was to offer three-year placements in industry for civil servants already in technical roles.

The trade body believes this will allow civil servants to broaden their knowledge by seeing first-hand the “cutting-edge innovation happening in the private sector”, as well as providing industry with a way of developing a better understanding of the kind of problems the public sector is facing.

It also recommends future civil servants get digital skills training as part of the government’s fast stream process.

Other barriers include budget restrictions and working culture in departments. Although nearly all of the civil servants surveyed agreed that better information sharing is key to improving public services, they still believe there are significant barriers such as legislation and internal working practices.

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In its report, TechUK called on the government to continue to develop common standards and platforms to remove siloes and make it easier to collaborate. It added that while the Government Digital Service (GDS) has “had some success in building components and platforms” to be used across departments, more needs to be done. 

“Removing barriers to sharing Innovative work is done across the public sector and in partnership with industry, but it is often hard for knowledge, products and information to be shared between departments and organisations,” the report said.

“By developing cross-government collaboration and common standards and platforms, it will be easier and cheaper for government to deliver truly transformative public services.”

Still work to be done for the public sector

Peter Cummings, chair of TechUK’s public services board, said the public sector has “come a long way in a short amount of time, but work still needs to be done”.

“End-to-end transformation is a step-change, and for it to succeed government needs not merely to embrace new technologies, but the new ways of delivering services that ‘digital’ makes possible,” he said.

“It’s clear that civil servants want to deliver world-class digital services to citizens: nearly four in five told us the public wanted to transact more with government online.

“A shortage of skills, expertise and capabilities is seen as the largest barrier to delivering tech-enabled public services, a frustration that has been echoed by senior stakeholders in government. There is also an awareness amongst public servants that greater sharing between organisations could deliver huge benefits to the taxpayer.”

The trade body also called on government to increase its willingness to experiment with new ways of working to tackle the barriers. It said that since GDS was launched in 2010, much has been done in terms of agile working and using innovative technologies, but that non-digital teams “haven’t always made the same progress”.

“As government moves from ‘digital uptake’ to end-to-end transformation, services will increasingly need to be digital in their design, not just in their delivery. This will require greater flexibility in working practices throughout the civil service,” the report said.

“Departments will need to challenge perceptions that their own working practices are unique or incompatible with other organisations if they are to have the tools needed to deliver the sort of joined-up public services that citizens will increasingly expect.”

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