Scotland’s digital ambitions hindered by ‘significant skills gap’

© iStockNearly three in 10 people aged 65 and older say they have never used a computer (iStock)

An IT skills gap is presenting challenges for the Scottish Government in meeting its digital ambitions, a watchdog has warned.

In its latest digital strategy, the Government pledged to put this at the heart of everything it does and outlined a series of actions including boosting connectivity and creating shared technology platforms for the public sector.

Spending watchdog Audit Scotland found some progress has been made but stressed the Government has not shown the strategic leadership necessary to achieve its digital ambitions and has not shared or learned lessons from reviews of major IT projects.

Guidance to ensure new services are designed around the needs of users was praised along with the development of a joint digital health and care strategy with councils and the NHS.

But a “significant skills gap” is causing problems, the report found.

A new governance assurance framework is helping to cut risks historically associated with large public IT projects but a lack of staff meant lessons learned from troubled schemes have not been shared.

The report states: “Government now needs to address the shortage of critical commercial and programme management expertise, technical foresight and to better co-ordinate plans across the public sector to help direct skills that are in short supply more effectively.”

Auditors found the Government does not know how much taxpayers’money is being invested in the public sector to achieve the aims of the 2017 digital strategy or how much more investment is needed.

It lacks a complete picture of the actions that have had the most impact so far and any gaps, making prioritising difficult, according to the report.

The report calls on the Government to show greater strategic leadership across the public sector to boost progress, including greater collaboration and information sharing.

Auditor general for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The Scottish Government is in a unique position to show digital leadership by bringing people together and sharing lessons learned across Scotland’s public sector.

“Governments across the world are facing the same challenge and bringing about collaboration will not be easy.

“But Scotland’s relatively small size presents a clear opportunity for the Government to move from an operational role to one of strategic leadership and reap all the benefits that shift could bring to citizens and the wider economy.”

Digital Economy Minister Kate Forbes said the report recommendations will be considered.

“This report recognises the challenge of delivering the ambitious vision of embedding digital in our public bodies and across our public services,” she said.

“I am pleased that Audit Scotland acknowledges the early progress made by the Scottish Government in this respect and the success of programmes of digital transformation that have been delivered in the last 24 months.

“But we realise that there is more work to be done.”

She added: “Our Digital Strategy for Scotland is ambitious and it sets out actions for Scotland to become a leading digital country.

“This ambition is matched by collective, coordinated actions that have already delivered good progress.

“We do, however, recognise that we will only achieve more through continued collaborative working across the public, private and third sectors. We will consider Audit Scotland’s recommendations.”

Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, urged ministers to act on the report.

She said: “Digital technology is transforming our society and Scotland is uniquely placed to be a world leader in this field.

“If we create an open world where all non-personal information is open, free for everyone to use, build on and share, we can build a better society.”