Government highlights 'critical shortage' of IT and ProgramME Management skills in preparing for Brexit.

London

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reports critical shortage of skills and resources across Government as they prepare for Brexit.

Departments already had a lot to deliver besides Brexit.  They must now urgently prioritise amongst the total of 313 listed ‘areas of work’ - and stop some projects to free up capacity.

Deputy Chair of PAC, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, stated that: "It is one thing to identify the amount of work required to deliver Brexit.  It is quite another to do it.”

“The committee has called for these work streams to be published by April, with a timeline of actions, so that Parliament is able to keep track of the Government’s progress in its preparedness to leave the EU.”

The civil service needs the right people, skills and resources to manage exiting the EU – but allocation of resources has been too slow.  The committee feels that the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) and the Cabinet Office do not have a robust enough plan to identify and recruit the people and skills needed quickly.

The report says that DExEU must pick up the pace of this work and mobilise other departments to get things done.  “It is concerning that Government departments still have so far to go to put their plans into practice.  The real world will not wait for the UK to get its house in order.  ”

With so much at stake and the committee calls for Parliament and the public to be kept meaningfully informed on what progress is being made, and at what cost.

Clifton-Brown concludes that: “The Government has identified over 300 work streams to complete as a consequence of the UK’s departure from the EU—a uniquely complicated task with the potential to become a damaging and unmanageable muddle.”

The Department for Exiting the European Union and the Cabinet Office accept that the pace of work must accelerate stating that “there needs to be a ‘sharp focus’ on the world of the real.”

Key skills are in short supply

The government has identified skills shortage as a critical risk factor in preparing for Brexit.  These include:

  1. Digital skills - Brexit will require new IT systems and infrastructure, the “scale of work is substantial and must be completed at pace”. (PAC)
  2. Project management – for both digital and commercial programs - already in short supply in government before the need to prepare for Brexit,” (PAC)

PAC has previously reported that of the 85 IT systems at the UK border, 30 will need to be replaced or changed because of Brexit.  Because of this, we have focused on the NAO report on Defra, below.

Government Digital Service COO, Alison Pritchard, speaking at the Government ICT conference in Westminster last month, highlighted the need for digital, data and technology (DDaT) skills across government departments - particularly in relation to Brexit.  , Pritchard said it is “no secret” that the country’s looming exit from the European Union (EU) has highlighted a huge need for digital skills in government.

And in the meantime a National Audit Office (NAO) report identifies nearly half of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Brexit work-streams as involving IT, with many of the projects still in their very early stages.

The Cabinet Office admitted to the PAC that it does “not have all the people today who we need to build all the things we have to”.

NAO report on Defra:  (30 January 2018)

Defra is one of the Departments most affected by Brexit with 43 identified work streams related to the UK leaving the EU.

20 of them involve IT – and Defra needs to ensure it ramps up its work, the NAO said: “In a number of cases, work streams with an IT component are still in the ‘discovery’ phase, establishing the needs of users and the scope of the service needed.  Until this stage is completed, the scope and timescale for some work streams cannot be finalised and are subject to change.”

It added that the Department still hasn’t been granted all the approvals needed to spend resources on priorities - such as planning for scenarios like a “no-deal” - to ensure that it is ready to handle whatever the outcome.  “Where work streams comprise a significant IT element, the department needs urgently to initiate procurement processes to complete implementation in time,” the NAO said.

Defra has shared responsibility with departments such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Home Office for UK border IT.  In this wider context, the NAO report aligns with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) findings that the Government did not expect “all new or updated IT systems to be ready” by the time the UK leaves the EU – with 30 of the 84 border IT systems needing to be replaced or changed due to Brexit.  “Defra’s programme is highly dependent on EU exit policy in other parts of government, with extensive cross-government collaboration and coordination required,” the NAO said.

A Defra spokesperson said that, like other government departments, it has an "extensive programme of work focused on preparing for a range of scenarios to make sure we deliver a green Brexit… We have utilised resources, continue to build the right skills, experience, and leadership to make the most of the opportunities ahead and are in ongoing discussions with Treasury about future funding requirements."

Most of Defra’s systems are heavily based around EU policy, such as customs clearance of imports of animals and animal products, which is currently managed through the EU’s Trade, Control and Expert System. However, the NAO said the department may need to replace this system with its own version when the UK leaves the EU.

The enormous amount of work needed to ensure the department is ready for Brexit also means Defra has had to postpone other projects, such as the creation of a centralised customer contact hub, the NAO report said.

John ShuttleworthComment