IT-illiterate MI5 staff face redundancy

The intelligence services are laying off staff who lack IT skills, and are planning to set up a joint MI5-MI6 datacentre
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The UK's Security Service has introduced a redundancy programme for staff who lack IT skills, according to the Intelligence and Security Committee's annual report.

In the report, which was laid before parliament on 18 March, Security Service director general Jonathan Evans is quoted as saying the Service — commonly known as MI5 — was instituting voluntary and compulsory redundancies after a review of its staff profile.

"I think some of the staff perhaps aren't quite the ones that we will want for the future," Evans said, according to the report.

Compiled by a group of nine MPs and peers, the report said that 610 new staff joined the service between 2008-2009. A further 253 positions are scheduled to be filled by April 2010.

In addition, the report indicated that the Communications-Electronics Security Group (CESG), the information assurance arm of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is servicing a "growing customer base" and has a funding shortfall of several million pounds.

"I believe there is a strong argument that as government becomes more and more dependent on IT...we need to consider what proportion of government IT spend should be going towards making the systems secure and resilient," GCHQ director Iain Lobban is quoted as saying.

"I have been recommending to the cabinet secretary that we should stop charging government departments for CESG services with effect from April this year [2010], if not from April this year, April next year [2011]."

The committee recommended that CESG's funding should therefore be boosted "as a matter of priority".

GCHQ took on 600 new staff between 2008 and 2009, resulting in a small net increase of three percent, from 5,051 to 5,296 staff. According to the committee, GCHQ said that "recruitment of the much sought-after internet analysts, those with rare language skills and information assurance specialists continue to be our main challenge".

The report also noted that the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, more commonly known as MI6) were planning to establish a joint datacentre to provide secure storage for both services' data records outside London. The two agencies are splitting the cost.

According to the report, GCHQ is not participating in the project because it does not have the necessary funding to do so, and because — in the words of GCHQ — the datacentre "doesn't offer sufficient space for [GCHQ's] requirements or indeed a resilient solution".

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