Government splashes out £6m on data scientists as part of digital skills drive

Sharp rise in the number of data scientists across major public sector departments as government accelerates its digital by default agenda, according to a new report from the Parliament Street think tank

by News Reporter on 8 June 2018 07:14

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The UK government has splashed out £6million on data scientists in the last year, according to a major new research study from the Parliament Street think tank. The report, entitled The Rise of the Data Scientist, examines the recruitment and remittance of data scientists across several major government departments.

Researchers lifted the lid on data science spending, revealing that headcounts and staff salaries for data scientists at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have risen significantly over the last three years. Total pay for the department’s data scientists has increased from £379,553 in the financial year of 2015/16 to £1,846,562 in 2017/18 - an increase of £1,467,009.

The DWP also reported a 400 per cent increase in the number of data scientists it employs over the last three financial years, rising from six staff in 2015/16 to 30 staff in 2017/18. Industry experts suggested data science skills were increasingly important in both government and businesses.

Dr. Rachid Hourizi, director, Institute of Coding said, "These findings illustrate that data scientists and their associated digital skills are very much in demand, both in government and industry. Unfortunately, the fact remains that as a nation we are not producing the numbers of qualified candidates that we should be, a trend which must be reversed immediately.

“Failure to tackle this problem could have catastrophic consequences for productivity, so we need to start getting more people excited about working in technology. We need to send a message that whether you are 16 or 60, high quality training resources and courses exist to help you master new digital skills and build an exciting new career in this vital sector,” added Hourizi.

The Department for Transport had significantly few staff and financial commitments in this area, reporting ‘five or fewer’ staff for each of the three financial years disclosed. In this time, staff costs rose from £109,193 in 2015/16 to £161,894 in the financial year of 2017/18.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government declared 69 staff who have significant data management responsibilities in their day-to-day duties and an estimated staff bill of £3,725,172 in the financial year of 2017/18 for these roles.

This figure comprises of staff based in data analytics and statistics division and all statisticians across the Department.

But IT industry experts warned that the UK’s pipeline of digitally-adept graduates was fragile.

Sheila Flavell Chief Operating Officer, FDM Group said, “Increasing data science capabilities should be a top priority for both the public and private sector, yet the UK digital skills crisis means many organisations are struggling to hire the necessary IT talent to meet demand.

With analytics and business intelligence now sitting at the heart of decision-making, we need to ensure the next generation is properly equipped with the technical abilities to fill these roles.

There are no quick fix solutions to this problem but tackling it means getting serious about building a more diverse tech sector. We urgently need to get more women into senior tech roles and ensure people from all backgrounds are properly supported with training to develop digital skills and deploy them where needed,” she concluded.

Other areas of the report revealed that Department of Health and Social Care disclosed spending of just £26,000 on ‘five or fewer’ staff in the financial year of 2015/16. This increased significantly to £256,000 for 2017/18 with a declared headcount of nine data scientists.

The Department for Exiting the European Union said that it had zero data scientists employed.

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