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UK Government facing acute software skills crisis, Acquia reveals

 

  • FOI responses show over a quarter (28%) of developer positions currently vacant across Government departments
  • Use of open source falling far short of Downing Street’s own Technology Code of Practice

British Government departments are in the midst of a software skills crisis, according to information uncovered through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests submitted by digital experience company Acquia. After contacting every government ministry, the responses revealed that a huge 28% of vacancies remain unfilled – across the 12 departments which responded to the question, some 317 developer positions are open, while just 808 developers are currently employed.

In requesting this information, Acquia set out to understand how the Government is approaching software development, and how use of open source software correlates with Downing Street’s Technology Code of Practice. Recognising the inherent value of an open source approach, the guidelines state that the practice enables developers to solve common problems, save time and resources and reduce implementation and running costs, and requires bodies to show they’ve “considered using open source and publishing code openly.” The Code of Practice also stipulates that when creating new source code, it should be made open so that other developers – including those outside Government – can benefit, learn from others’ experience and find new uses for code.

But despite acknowledging the clear benefits of open source software, many Government departments have yet to fully embrace the practice. The Department for Work and Pensions, for example, only uses open source code to build between 3.5 and 3.7% of its applications, while the Department for International Trade and the Transport Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency have harnessed open source to build 60% and 75% of applications respectively. On the other end of the scale, 90% of services developed by the Cabinet Office are built using open source, as are all of the Department for Transport’s.

The Government is also a long way off making all of its code open, despite the intention in the Technology Code of Practice. The Department for Housing, Communities & Local Government, for example, open sources just 33% of its code, while the Cabinet Office makes 50.05% available to others.

Other key findings include:

  • The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport does not develop any of its own software
  • The Department for International Trade spent nearly as much on software development as seven other departments combined, which may be attributed to Brexit preparations – between 2019-2020 a total of £10.5 million was spent, including costs associated with EU exit preparedness. In contrast, the total spend for seven other departments equates to £11,664,215.90

“Open source software enables businesses and governments to accelerate innovation, tap into expertise from the world’s best developers, and develop better technology, so it’s great to see it championed in the Government’s Technology Code of Practice,” commented Tom Bianchi, VP EMEA, Acquia. “However, our research clearly shows that more needs to be done before Downing Street can be said to fully practice what it preaches. And when it is facing such a severe skills gap, adopting open source will enable the Government to do more with less and act much more efficiently to mitigate the impact of resourcing challenges.”

Notes:

The FOI requests were submitted in September 2020, with responses received during October 2020.

Responses which were at least partially answered were received from:

  • The Cabinet Office
  • The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
  • The Department for International Trade
  • The Department for Transport
  • The Transport Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency
  • The Transport Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency
  • The Department for Work and Pensions
  • Her Majesty’s Treasury
  • The Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • UK Export Finance

The following ministries declined to answer, or did not provide a response:

  • The Department of Defence
  • The Attorney General’s Office
  • The Department for Education
  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • The Department for Health & Social Care
  • The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
  • The Home Office
  • The Department for Justice
  • The Secretary of State for Wales
  • The Secretary of State for Scotland
  • The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Acquia

 

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