Scary lack of cyber experts in the British government: parliamentary inquiry


The UK government is suffering from a serious shortage of cybersecurity experts, putting essential services at high risk of cyberattacks, according to a new report from Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The commission revealed a serious digital skills shortage in the civil service, which has less than half the number of digital, data and technology professionals it needs. Currently, the proportion of such workers in government is around 4.5%, which compares to an equivalent sector average of between 8% and 12%.

The PAC investigation reported a “particular shortage” of cybersecurity experts within the UK government, whose skills deserve a “premium”.

Dame Meg Hillier, MP and chair of the PAC, said the lack of cybersecurity expertise in the service “should send chills down the Government’s spine”.

This digital skills shortage also hampers the government’s ability to upgrade and remediate its most at-risk legacy systems.

The numbers correspond to results from the British government Cybersecurity skills in the UK job market 2023 report, published in July 2023, which reveals that 50% of UK businesses have a basic cybersecurity skills gap and 33% have an advanced cybersecurity skills gap.

Commenting on the PAC report, Professor Richard Benham, government cybersecurity advisor and leading academic in the field of cybersecurity, said the findings were particularly alarming in the context of the rise of advanced technologies.

“The pace of AI and quantum computing, as well as that of technological bioengineering, mean that what we define as humanity will change, and the digital revolution will bring rapid challenges. The government needs cybersecurity experts, and they will be futurists who understand the impact on every aspect of our lives and help us get it right the first time,” he explained.

“The scary thing is that there are so few leaders in this field. When people find out that I was the first professor of cybersecurity management just 12 years ago, they realize how big the sector has become,” added Benham.

Factors contributing to the skills shortage

The PAC survey identified a series of factors explaining the shortage of digital skills in the civil service:

  • Civil service salary constraints prevent ministries from competing with the private sector in hard-to-recruit positions, such as cybersecurity.
  • Some digital skills shortages are “self-inflicted”, with staff cuts meaning digital staffing levels have been rationed across government departments.
  • The requirement for generalist senior leaders to have a better understanding of digital business has not been formalized in the civil service. Therefore, the PAC recommended that digital responsibilities, such as improving digital services and managing legacy systems most at risk, be included in appointment letters at the most senior levels of all departments.
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