A former Minister for the Cabinet Office has called for the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) to be brought back together.
Sir Francis Maude, who held the post in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, has included the recommendation in his Independent Review of Governance and Accountability in the Civil Service.
It is part of the broader critique of the arrangements which he says are “unclear, opaque and incomplete”.
An initial response from the Government has suggested that it is currently reluctant to make significant changes in the structure of the Civil Service.
Maude oversaw the establishment of GDS as the lead organisation for digital and data in central government after moving into the ministerial role in 2010. But its responsibilities were split in early 2021, with the CDDO setting strategy and standards and GDS developing relevant services for government. Both bodies operate within the Cabinet Office.
The Maude review says this is a largely artificial split that is an example of providing multiple, and sometimes mixed signals in the Civil Service.
“The lack of a unified organisational structure degrades the strength of leadership that can be provided by the centre, and absorbs significant amounts of officials’ time in brokering internal coordination rather than delivery,” the document says.
This leads to a recommendation that GDS and CDDO should be unified as a single team – part of a broader claim that each major function should be unequivocally led by a single chief officer.
The document adds that GDS “has developed some excellent common services that can quickly and cheaply be deployed by departments and other entities”, but that it has to employ people to “sell” its services within government rather being given a mandate backed by spending controls.
Among the other recommendations is that heads of the principal cross-cutting functions of government, including digital, should be appointed at permanent secretary level, and that it will usually make sense to recruit them through an external search.
“It is in the nature of these roles that they will often need to challenge existing customs and practices,” the review says.
It also says that functional leaders should held accountable to Parliament by select committees, the mandate for spend controls should be restated and strengthened, and senior executives in the functions should be directly employed by the central function.
In response, the Government appeared to show caution over implementing the recommendation. In announcing the publication to Parliament, outgoing Minister for the Cabinet Office Jeremy Quin said there will be a further review of the 125 most significant public bodies to improve efficiency and performance.
“However, a number of long term recommendations, if implemented now, would serve to detract from the focus on the prime minister’s five critical priorities,” he added. “For example, we will not take forward the recommendation for a significant restructure of the machinery of central government or alter the role of cabinet secretary.”
Earlier this year the CDDO was given a generally positive review of its performance by the National Audit Office.