Concerns raised as Government Digital Services fails to hold on to top talent
In today’s world of growing technological complexity, having access to the right mix and level of digital skills is vital for any organisation.
It’s somewhat alarming then, that a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the BBC has revealed the Government Digital Service (GDS) lost ten senior personnel at deputy director level or above in the year to April 2016.
Not only that, as of March 2016 the organisation had 21 senior positions unfilled.
“It should be deeply worrying to see some of the brightest talent in the civil service leaving public service to go and work in the private sector,” said Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats. “Ministers need to make sure that staff feel empowered and engaged, and at the moment it’s clear that many civil servants feel neither.”
Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on data analytics, described the departures as “alarming” and highlighted the importance of the service to the UK government’s digital transformation efforts: “The sector is key to our competitiveness and future prosperity – we cannot afford to be losing key people at this important time.”
Although it wasn’t made clear how many of the 10 departees had stayed within the civil service, history suggests that the lure of the private sector was probably too strong to ignore for many of them.
For example, former GDS executive director Mike Bracken left to join the Co-operative Group in September 2015 and was later joined by his GDS successor Stephen Foreshew-Cain, leading to concerns that the government would move away from a centralised digital strategy.
There is, however, some good news for the government. The number of overall staff employed by GDS has more than doubled since April 2012, up from 135 to 387 in April 2016, boosted by increasing numbers of junior staff.
GDS Director General, Kevin Cunnington, said: “GDS has bolstered its headcount with greater numbers year-on-year since 2011. I am also making great progress in making sure we have a senior team to take us successfully into a new and exciting phase for GDS.”
All in all, it’s been something of a rollercoaster year for our digital government. Despite confirming that GDS CTO Andy Beale will step down in January, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that an extra £2 billion will be put towards cutting-edge technology research.