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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
24 November 2022
Scottish Prison Service spent about £1m on digital contractor fees during the pandemic

Low Moss near Bishopbriggs, Scotland | Alamy

Scottish Prison Service spent about £1m on digital contractor fees during the pandemic

The Scottish Prison Service spent around £1m on digital consultants during the pandemic, it has emerged.

Speaking at a Holyrood roundtable event on how to strengthen cyber security in the public sector, Nigel Ironside, head of digital services at SPS, said ten contractors were brought in to digitalise and improve cyber resilience as the pandemic forced rapid adoption of digital services.

Commenting on the need for them, Ironside explained that digitalising parts of the prison service “requires a set of skills that we have not had before”. But these skills can come at a high cost and in one instance was not viable, he said: “When I asked the business for a data architect, we went away and found they earn more than the chief executive.”  

This has left the SPS, and other public sector bodies, to pursue “a hybrid mode” of digital expertise. And the cost, particularly over the pandemic, is high due to contractor fees. 

Ironside said: “I spend, no word of a lie, about £1m a year on contractor fees. I have two cyber resilience experts now, but I can only afford them until March. I am spending £200,000 on two bodies.”

As the severity of the pandemic has lessened the SPS has now entered a consolidation period and has doubled the size of its digital team, employing 15 new people to work on the digital acceleration of the service.  

They have been proactive in bringing down future cyber-related costs. Ironside has recently recruited two cyber apprentices that are being put through college with the view to bringing them into the business. He said: “That is the future of how we go forward.”

The danger of cyber-attacks is a very real threat to the public sector. In the first two years of the pandemic, national crime statistics show that cybercrime in Scotland almost doubled. Amongst the rise in attacks, large public sector bodies have been affected. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) fell victim to attacks in December 2020. Four thousands files were stolen, and significant disruption was caused to the organisation’s communications. It was later revealed that SEPA spent £790,000 in response to the major cyber-attack, including almost £500,000 to stabilise the IT platform.  

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “With support from the Scottish Government, SPS has invested heavily in digital in recent years, further developing our digital functionality, capability and protection across the organisation.

“The last few years have seen a rise in both digital expectation and digital risk – challenges, which we must continue to respond to.

“Similarly, digital competence is an integrated aspect of pro-social citizenship today and as such the people in our care cannot be isolated from the rapid advancements, we are all seeing in the world around us.

“Improved access to digital technology will aid rehabilitation, education, close family connections and community integration, all of which are critical aspects of reducing re-offending and making Scotland safer”.

“Our long-term ambition to expand the use of a safe digital system aligned with increased digital access and functionality not only benefit those in our care and their families, but also our communities and the wider justice sector.  

“Ensuring we have the right mix of skills to deliver these outcomes will see us respond to a competitive employment market in securing and developing our organisational abilities in this area.”

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