Scottish Government caught out by IT skills gap - report

The Scottish Government should have acted sooner to address a gap in IT skills in the public sector, according to a report.

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL

Audit Scotland found that government bodies struggle to recruit specialist staff to run information and communication technology (ICT) projects.

Organisations such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Police Scotland find it difficult to compete with private-sector salaries on offer, auditors said.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

In 2012 they identified a lack of skills and experience as a key factor in the failure of three ICT projects run by the Registers of Scotland, COPFS and Disclosure Scotland.

The latest report reviewed progress against the recommendations made three years ago and concluded that Scottish Government measures to address the concerns lacked clarity and “have not been fully effective”.

A skills-gap survey across the public sector was not carried out until August last year, with an action plan published in December.

The report said: “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.

“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.”

In 2013/14, the Scottish public sector spent £739 million on suppliers of ICT services, of which at least £153 million was central government spend.

The report found that government bodies were turning to short-term contracts or agency staff to fill skills gaps, pushing up costs in the process.

It welcomed the Government’s plan to develop a service to boost access to digital skills in the public sector.

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.

“Our recommendations reflect the continuing work by the Scottish Government and central government bodies, and are intended to help them achieve the full benefits of effective ICT; particularly in this time of reducing budgets and increasing demand for public services.”

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

She said: “The SNP government wasted two years after the first Audit Scotland report before even looking into the skills shortage which resulted in temporary staff being recruited at a higher cost to the taxpayer.

“It’s important that the public sector manages an efficient and tight ICT system to provide better services for the public and to reduce costs.”

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 under way.

“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.”