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The government lacks the digital skills required for Brexit, MPs warn

The government lacks the digital skills required to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU, an influential group of MPs have warned.

A report by Public Accounts Committee said that the Cabinet Office and Department for Exiting the EU do not have a credible plan for securing the people and skills needed to navigate Brexit.

“There is a particularly critical need for project management, technical and digital skills,” the report said. “Departments will be competing for these skills against private sector organisations also preparing for Brexit.”

The report recommends that the Cabinet Office devises a credible plan to recruit enough skilled staff to oversee the Brexit process. It suggests that departments will need these staff to build new infrastructure and set up IT systems.

“The scale of work is substantial and must be completed at pace,” the committee said. “The skills required to manage these tasks, particularly in the specialisms of project management, digital and commercial, were already in short supply in government before the need to prepare for Brexit.”

The committee warned in December that the government’s decision not to upgrade the UK’s border IT systems in time for Brexit is “borderline reckless”.  HMRC told the committee that “29 or 30” of the 85 different IT systems operating at the border will need to be changed or replaced, but that they will not be in place by March 2019.

Despite claiming to be planning for a no-deal scenario, departments are “relying too much on there being a transitional period”, the PAC said.

“This approach, in the context of what continues to be huge uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, might generously be described as cautious,” said PAC chair Meg Hillier. “But against the hard deadline of Brexit it is borderline reckless — an over-reliance on wishful thinking that risks immediately exposing the UK to an array of damaging scenarios.”