A lack of cybersecurity experts in UK government should be of significant concern, according to a new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Pay constraints mean that government departments are unable to fully compete with the private sector in hard-to-recruit roles with shortages of cybersecurity experts, whose skills command a premium, a particular problem.
However, some digital skills shortages are self-inflicted through counter-productive staffing cuts against the backdrop of a struggle to recruit and retain the necessary skilled people in the civil service’s digital workforce, the report claimed.
Cybersecurity experts are difficult to recruit, demand a premium
There is a major digital skills shortage in the UK and skilled digital professionals command a premium in the market, making it hard for departments to recruit, the Digital transformation in government: Addressing the barriers to efficiency report read. Government estimates that the number of digital, data, and technology professionals in the civil service is around 4.5%, less than half the number it needs when compared to an equivalent industry average of between 8% and 12%, and so the number will need to double. “Departments are facing particular shortages in roles such as data architects and cybersecurity experts, which are difficult to recruit and where the skills command a premium in the market.”
Despite the importance of digital to a modern civil service, the requirement for senior generalist leaders to have a better understanding of digital business has not formalised, the PAC’s report claimed. The PAC recommended that digital responsibilities, such as improving digital services and addressing the highest risk legacy systems, should be included in letters of appointment at the most senior levels in all departments.
Digital must not be treated as a sideline issue
One of the hallmarks of the digital revolution has been rapid and accelerating change, commented Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC. “Our inquiry has found that Whitehall’s digital services, far from transforming at the pace required, are capable of only piecemeal and incremental change. Departments’ future-proofing abilities are hobbled by staff shortages, and a lack of support, accountability and focus from the top. In particular, a lack of cybersecurity experts should send a chill down the government’s spine.”
The government talks of its ambitions for digital transformation and efficiency, while actively cutting the very roles which could help achieve them, she added. “Our inquiry leaves us unconvinced that these aims will be achieved in the face of competing pressures and priorities.” Digital must not be treated merely as a sideline but must sit right at the heart of how government thinks about delivery. “Without swift and substantial modernisation, opportunities to improve services for the public will continue to be lost.”