Senior civil servants say 40 percent of their staff have "very" or "fairly significant" ICT skills gaps, according to the damning results of a National Audit Office report on overall skills across government departments.

According to the report, senior servants also said 44 percent of their staff also had at least "minor" gaps in their ICT skills set.

The NAO said that in spite of major expenditure by central government departments on developing the skills of their staff, "government does not know how much is being spent and has rarely evaluated its impact on performance".

On overall training, only 48 percent of civil servants said that the learning and development they had received in the last 12 months had helped them "to be better at their job". The government estimates it spent £275 million (or £547 for each civil servant) on training in 2009-10, but the NAO said this was "a significant underestimate".

The survey of senior civil servants found that staff had "very" or "fairly significant" skills gaps in programme and project management (54 percent), 39 percent in financial management and 40 percent in ICT.

The report says "data weaknesses in departmental information systems limit departments’ understanding of the skills they already have and the development activities that are required".

To help address training problems covered in the report, a new cross-government learning and development service called Civil Service Learning became operational in April 2011.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said, "Key elements of success will be knowing what skills are needed and which staff have them, and then deploying those staff to where they are most needed.

"These key elements are not presently in place in many departments and need to be driven urgently to be in step with major change programmes."

Martyn Hart, chairman of the National Outsourcing Association, said, "In the wake of this week's Open Public Services whitepaper the government must become an intelligent procurer of services."

The white paper spells out the need for civil servants to get up to speed with the demands of programme and project management when using outsourcers. Hart said civil servants will "need to be fully trained on how to get the best out of outsourcing contracts".