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People first, alwaysContents



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Inspire a lost generation of technologists and digital professionals to help build a more equitable society

Public service can and should offer a career high for Britain’s technology workforce. Getting the NHS back on its feet and improving everyone’s lives with effective public services are among the most significant challenges society has to offer – but current ways of working mean there are few opportunities for those working in technology functions to deliver meaningful change.

While civil service salary levels are a factor in tech recruitment, they are not the only reason skilled people choose to work elsewhere. Our respondents told us that a lack of compelling vision, a hierarchical culture, and a preference for outsourcing mean public-service jobs are no longer at the top of the list for those seeking career satisfaction or a sense of purposeful contribution.

The vision for digital government has not evolved over the last decade. This means that new challenges are unaddressed, new capabilities are unrealised, and legacy issues are stacking up. Instead, the original ambition of the Government Digital Service has been minimised and its capacity is now on a par with what one respondent called “a modern website team”.

Expert contributors noted that a “lack of digital skills in positions of strategic and policy influence” mean that effective programmes of work are not being prioritised while – across critical areas such as health, education and welfare – policy thinking is “overly influenced by technology companies and individually ‘famous’ technologists who do not understand the specific [policy] context”.

Instead, internal technical and design expertise is often overlooked, with policies and programmes announced before their delivery implications or wider consequences have been worked through. This builds on a culture in which senior leaders “ask for things that are impossible to deliver” or ignore things that could provide benefit because they are “not sufficiently exciting”.

This under-use of existing digital talent is supported by findings from the National Audit Office that:

Digital leaders in government have a good understanding of the challenges the government faces and bring much needed expertise to the public sector. However, they often struggle to get the attention, understanding and support needed from senior decision-makers.

This is part of a wider culture in which digital specialists are “seen as secondary to policy generalists and senior managers” with Dr Jess Morley noting that “in the NHS these individuals are still considered admin staff”; others noted that elsewhere in government these skills are treated as “a nice to have, rather than fundamental to implementing policy outcomes”.

As such, public services are stuck in a contradiction: innovation and having new ideas are perceived to be high status, but getting things done is pushed to the bottom of the list.

The prospect of playing a role in delivering more equitable, useful digital government that creates better lives for everyone can and should be a compelling and galvanising opportunity. The “can do'' optimism of progressive technology workers can be called upon to revive digital public services, deliver real change, and build a better society for everyone. Achieving this requires a compelling vision that puts people first, places digital expertise on a par with policymaking across the civil service, and positions public service as inspiring and motivating for more people to participate in.