National Audit Office NAO

1 Postings and promotions not giving sufficient weight to skills
Not ensuring posts are filled by staff with appropriate skills

There are other obstacles to ensuring posts are filled by staff with appropriate skills. Decisions over staff postings and promotions do not always give sufficient weight to the skills requirements of the roles. There have been significant efforts to professionalise the civil service in recent years, but standards associated with particular professions are not always reflected in recruitment to posts. There are also practical challenges to better deployment of skills both within and across departments, including poor data on existing skills of staff, poor incentives to share skilled staff and barriers to cross-departmental deployment.

2 Evaluations focus on the individual experience not on broader impact
Misalignment in reviewing skills development

The effectiveness of learning and development investment has not been routinely evaluated. Evaluation of learning and development activities carried out by departments tends to focus on the individual learner's experience, but examples where evaluation has considered the impact on departmental performance are rare. This misalignment is not helpful and more can be done to review skills development in the context of business performance.

3 Data weaknesses
Limited understanding of skills possessed

Data weaknesses limit departments' understanding of the skills they already have, and hence the development activities that are required. As a consequence of the division of management responsibilities, combined with weaknesses in departmental information systems, knowledge of existing skills remains patchy at a corporate level. This has made it difficult to maintain oversight of skills development needs and to choose effectively between competing skills priorities. Incomplete and unreliable management information on what skills development is undertaken, by which members of staff, and at what cost further weakens departments' ability to manage and maintain the link between business needs and skills development activities.

4 Overemphasis on classroom-based training
Skills not integrated into day-to-day operations

In-house development of skills has not been consistently integrated into day-to-day operations. There has been insufficient attention given to the importance of 'on-the-job' learning and the role that line managers play in facilitating this. While some departments have made progress in using a range of internal development options, there has to date been an overemphasis on classroom-based training provided by learning and development professionals.

5 Difficulties in recruiting skilled staff
Significant challenges in buying-in and retaining key skills

Departments currently face significant challenges in buying-in and retaining key skills. Almost 80 per cent of respondents to our survey considered there are significant skills gaps in their organisations, and of these 84 per cent said difficulties in recruiting skilled staff were a significant contributing factor. At the same time, planned reductions in departmental headcount increase the risk of a loss of key skills. The information on existing staff skills required to manage this risk is not universally strong: less than 40 per cent of respondents to our survey considered that their organisation was 'very' or 'fairly' effective in maintaining information on the skills of staff.

6 Devolved responsibilities
Skills not well-aligned with business needs

Departmental skills strategies and governance arrangements have not been adequate to ensure skills development activities are well-aligned with departmental business needs. The approach we found in departments is fragmented, with highly devolved structures. Accountabilities are unclear, with management responsibilities divided across HR functions, professional leads and business managers. We reviewed 13 departmental skills strategies covering 2008-11, and in less than half could we clearly trace the links between business objectives, the prioritised skills gaps and the solutions selected. Most did not define current and future business needs clearly.


Departments have invested heavily in skills development. Government estimates that expenditure on formal training, including salary costs of departmental learning and development staff, was £275 million in 2009-10 (around £547 per head), around half of which related to 'generic' skills. However, the true cost of skills development is significantly higher and the estimated split between different categories of learning and development unreliable, given that figures exclude informal learning and development activities, the value of the time of staff attending courses and an unknown amount of spend on profession-specific and technical training.


This report assesses whether central government's approach to skills development has been cost-effective. Ineffective skills development entails risk to value for money in two ways. The most obvious is the wasted investment - in the Civil Service People Survey in 2010, only 48 per cent of civil servants said that the learning and development they had received in the last 12 months had helped them be better at their job. But more significant is the adverse impact on the performance of public sector programmes and projects. Our recent work has shown that skills gaps can have a significant impact on government's ability to meet its objectives and provide value for money.

The items above were selected and named by the e-Government Subgroup of the EUROSAI IT Working Group on the basis of publicly available report of the author Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI). In the same way, the Subgroup prepared the analytical assumptions and headings. All readers are encouraged to consult the original texts by the author SAIs (linked).