Digital talent and precariousness in government

28 March 2024

Given there’s a UK election coming up, there’s going to talk about how to get more tech talent into government. Most is probably going to be encouraging ‘tours of duty’ from the tech industry. That short-term engagements are the way to get people with digital skills in to government. I thoughts I’d share my experience from 2011 on the precariousness that creates.

I originally joined the civil service on a 2 year fixed term as a civil servant. That was extended once (after a stressful period of uncertainty). Then when it should have rolled over into a full-term contract, I was told it wouldn’t. Just a letter in the post. No one anywhere in the civil service/gds could or would help. Nor could I transfer, despite trying. I was trying to move house at the time, in the middle of what turned out to be a series of miscarriages, and undergoing mental health treatment that was the result of the GDS transformation projects. At what felt like the last minute I was told it could maybe rollover if I did a sort of internal contracting role, but there was nothing concrete and the uncertainty of that had already taken its toll, so I quit.

I never wanted to be a contractor, I’d spent years before working on government things outside of government and played a not insignificant hand in several successes (GOV.UK, Universal Credit, Service Standard, GaaP, etc). I built built everything around the assumption of remaining a product manager in the civil service. But contracting was where I found myself having to absorb with covid, unpaid parental leave, several episodes of cancer in the family, deaths and a everything that life throws at you. Treating digital skills an exception, or something to be passed onto people already in management positions in a short bursts forces this kind of precariousness and costs on to people. If you want digital people in government, give them stable jobs and responsibilities.