Skills shortage behind Digital Restart funding pause: Dominello

The New South Wales Government’s flagship investment vehicle for digital projects was not topped up in this year’s state Budget due to Treasury concerns over labour market constraints.

The state’s Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello said a request for additional funding had been made for the Digital Restart Fund, but that the bid was ultimately knocked back.

“I made a pitch to Treasury. I wanted it to be topped up, but Treasury reported back to us that we had challenges in relation to supply,” he told a Budget Estimates hearing on Tuesday.

“The challenge is … there’s just not enough supply [in the market] in relation to talent coming through; the coders, the engineers we need to actually do the product.”

NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello

Mr Dominello, who launched a cyber security operations centre for NSW Police on Monday after some delay, said the government faces the same issues finding “people in the cyber industry”.

“Everybody is poaching off each other at the moment, and that’s why the Prime Minister, to his credit, is holding this jobs summit,” he said.

The Digital Restart Fund was established with an initial $100 million in the 2019 budget to build consistent, reusable platforms across government, improving digital services in the process.

Additional funding worth $1.6 billion and $500 million was provided in 2020 and 2021, extending the fund until the end of the 2023-24 financial year.

But no new funding was forthcoming this year despite a total of $42 million in new spending initiatives by the government.

Mr Dominello rejected suggestions that the government would have to limit its digital initiatives without new funding, stressing there was already a “very strong pipeline of product for delivery”.

“We’ve got a pipeline of delivery that will continue for a number of years, but Treasury has asked us to put our bid in further, which we will do,” he said.

He said that by pausing the funding for a year, Treasury argued that the government “could catch up”.

NSW chief information and digital officer Greg Wells told the committee that 251 project had been funded through the Digital Restart Fund to date, with $242 million remaining for projects over the next two years.

“Of the $2.2 billion, $1.945 billion has been allocated to projects,” he said.

“So, excluding a small amount of contingency, there’s $242 million that’s been reserved for projects as part of the pipeline… but is yet to be allocated.”

The government is currently using the fund to bankroll key projects like a statewide single digital patient record project and a patient app that will be linked to the My Health Record.

Funding to the tune of $315 million has also been ringfenced for a series of cyber security uplifts including at the Department of Communities and Justice, Service NSW, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, the Department of Education, and Treasury.

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