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18 June 2015
Government skills gap remains a 'significant problem', warns Audit Scotland

Government skills gap remains a 'significant problem', warns Audit Scotland

The Scottish Government and other central government bodies are still struggling to identify, recruit and retain staff with sufficient skills to deliver large-scale ICT projects, according to Audit Scotland.

A report published today by the watchdog found progress is being made to overcome difficulties in managing ICT programmes, but a lack of ICT skills continues to be a major issue.  

In 2012 Audit Scotland recommended Scottish Government assess the skills required for future ICT programmes. However, a skills gap survey across the public sector wasn’t commissioned until last August.

“In the two-year period between our report and this survey, central government bodies were still experiencing difficulties in finding appropriately skilled staff for ICT programmes,” says the report.

“In our view the skills gap survey should have been done earlier to enable the Scottish Government to take quicker action to address the problem in the short and long term.”

The watchdog warned of the risks resulting from relying on short-term contracts or agency staff to fill skills gaps after finding evidence of ICT programmes where the majority of staff were on short-term contracts.

An “ambitious” shared digital transformation service is now being developed to make digital skills more readily available throughout central government bodies, though how it will operate is still to be finalised.  

Meanwhile, Audit Scotland found an assurance framework put in place by government in 2013 to support bodies undertaking ICT programmes was unclear and the body responsible for overseeing it, the Information Systems Investment Board (ISIB), did not have the capacity or information needed to carry out its role.

A revised framework was introduced this April which provides “clearer instructions and guidance”, notes the report. Government also created the Office of the Chief Information Officer earlier this year, which will support ISIB, but the roles and responsibilities have not yet been finalised.

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “While steps have been taken to improve, and overcome obstacles such as the shortage of ICT skills in the public sector, today's report shows that significant progress is still needed.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said the report made for “worrying reading”. 

“If the SNP had carried out a skills gap survey earlier when it was previously recommended by Audit Scotland they could have worked with colleges and universities to equip students with the skills they needed,” she added.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome that Audit Scotland’s report recognises a substantial proportion of their recommendations have already been implemented and that further work is underway.

“We will continue to drive forward reform in the delivery of public services in Scotland, building on our solid reputation for effectiveness and efficiency.

“The Scottish Government is committed to continuing joint working across central government to further improve ICT programme delivery, which is helping us deliver tangible improvements in public services.”

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