The government’s digital-by-default agenda, which aims to save taxpayers £1.7 billion a year after 2015, is being put at risk by a serious skills gap in the Civil Service.
It is a year since the release of the Civil Service Reform Plan, which with digital ambitions at the heart of the plan, aims to set out how the UK civil service can change to work and deliver services more efficiently.
A 12 month-on report card has been released today, which highlights the government’s skills problem as a concern.
The progress report gave the digital by default agenda an amber rating – meaning that it is ‘moderately delayed and/or implementation moderately off track.
There are a number of positives in the report, including the transfer of all departmental web content to the single domain website, GOV.UK, whichis getting one million hits a day and has so far saved the taxpayer £42 million.
However, the report also states: “The Civil Service has skills gaps which are putting at risk our digital transformation. GDS (Government Digital Service) will work closely with departments to build digital skills urgently across the Civil Service to help mitigate this.”
There is already evidence of GDS having to support departments in achieving their digital goals, where it recently provided tailored advice on the recruitment of Chief Digital Officers and Chief Technology Officers.
It is also worth noting that there has been a significant number of key technology leaders stepping down from their roles within central government over the past twelve months - most recently the head of the Major Projects Authority
and the executive director of Next Generation Shared Services. The government's flagship Universal Credit programme has also seen numerous changes in leadership in recent months.
This comes at a time when the Cabinet Office and key technology leaders within government are pushing for a digital overhaul in the public sector. It is hoped that by becoming agile and digital, central government departments can rely less on the ‘oligopoly’ of suppliers they traditionally deal with and move away from cumbersome legacy IT.
To support this, the Government Procurement Service this week also announced a £100 million digital services framework, which calls for agile SMEs to supply to departments that need customised digital services built to align with the Digital-by-Default agenda.
However, MPs have also this week raised concerns over the agenda, where Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said that the government has not been able to prove its savings claims and that there should be security concerns over inadequate government software.
Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said that the Civil Service has reflected on progress made to date and is now ready to deliver on its reform commitments.
“Despite the very best endeavours of many people, the delivery of the Reform Plan to date has been held back by some of the very things that it was designed to address – weaknesses in capability, lack of clear accountability, and delivery discipline,” he said.
“We have learnt the importance of moving forward as a unified Civil Service, and that there should be no hiding place for those failing to deliver.”
He added: “We are committed that, in the year ahead, we will pick up the pace on delivery and build on the momentum that is already beginning to be felt. We will drive the Reform Plan actions to a successful conclusion – with a singleminded focus on those actions which can be expected to realise the most significant benefits for taxpayers.”
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