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The government is suffering from a major data science skills shortage, the Chief Executive of the Civil Service John Manzoni admitted today, but he added that plans were in place to prevent a potential crisis.

The issue was not exclusive to the UK, said Manzoni, who also holds the title of Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office and was making the keynote speech at the Big Data in Government conference organised by the public sector think tank Reform. He pointed to research in the US predicting that by 2018 they will be short of 190,000 data scientists as evidence.

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The UK Government has developed an impressive global reputation for its use of open data. It has released more than 30,000 non-personal data sets until today, which have been used to develop more than 400 different apps.

"There’s even a Great British Public Toilet app," Manzoni told the audience at the iconic BT Tower in central London. "A sort of relief map of the country!"

The impressive recent past does not remove the dangers of the future. Last June the House of Commons Science and Technology Comittee published a report titled "The Digital Skills Crisis" that described a digital skills gap "costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year in lost additional GDP."

Manzoni explained a number of plans that the government had put in place to ensure the crisis would not be catastrophic for the government.

"Here, in the UK Civil Service, we are growing the specialist data science community in a variety of ways — from direct recruitment to training to defining new career pathways for analysts," he said.

"The Data Science Accelerator Programme is tapping into the 3,000 or so analysts from other disciplines looking to develop their data science skills.

"A Data Science Campus opened its doors at ONS’s headquarters in Newport last October. And the first intake for a new Apprenticeship in Data Analytics started work on their two-year vocational training programme at the end of 2016.

"And because everyone at every level should have an appreciation of the power of data, we’re developing a programme in data literacy for non-data specialists. The Digital Academy will provide skills training right across government for up to 3,000 people a year."

He also referred to the plans outlined in the recently-released digital transformation strategy to appoint a new Chief Data Officer to oversee this agenda and a cross-government senior Data Advisory Board.

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"Together, these measures are nudging us towards a cultural shift in the status of data in government and those who work with it," he said.

"And how Government uses data in service of the citizen will define how the citizen experiences Government. When we get it right, we will deliver the right service at the right time to the right person. And that is our goal."

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