UK officials warn of lack of digital resources and skills

According to a government-backed survey, more than half of UK civil servants warned that their departments lacked the technology tools, resources and skills needed to transform public services.

Earlier this year, ministers set out a ‘roadmap’ to improve digital public services by 2025, with the ambition to deliver ‘world-class’ systems and ‘attract and retain the best talent digital”.

However, findings from the UK Civil Service Digital Skills Report, released on Tuesday and backed by Google Cloud, showed the uphill battle facing officials as they try to modernize Whitehall’s infrastructure.

According to the report, confidence in the government’s ability to use technology to improve public services was low among staff.

About 63% of public servants working in digital transformation said “legacy technology” was a barrier; 61% cited a lack of funding and half blamed an inability to hire qualified talent.

Only 42% of respondents said their department has the tools, resources and skills to use technology to improve public services.

The report also revealed that there was only a limited understanding of more advanced tools among staff, hampering the government’s digital ambitions.

More than a third said they had little or no skills in artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, and even more – 39% – said the same for cloud technology. All of these areas are considered essential to the delivery of modern digital services.

However, the report also showed that there was an understanding within government that change was needed.

More than three-quarters of respondents said innovation was key to unlocking public sector improvements, while more than three-quarters wanted more digital skills training.

The report was commissioned to determine the extent and shape of the digital skills gap in the civil service. The survey was carried out by Global Government Forum, a publishing house for Whitehall civil servants, and involved more than 1,000 employees.

In a foreword to the report, Megan Lee, chief executive of the Central Digital and Data Office, which leads the government’s digital, data and technology function, said she had not “underestimated the challenges we face when it comes to attracting and retaining the best digital talent on the market in a highly competitive environment”.

Adam Stewart, Head of Public Sector, UK&I, at Google Cloud, said research showed Whitehall was falling behind due to digital barriers: “Legacy technology and lengthy procurement processes are holding the public sector back.

“However, with 75% of civil servants wanting to receive more digital skills training, it is clear that the appetite for transformation is there.”

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