Former care minister charged with digital transformation and public sector reform
Last month, Matthew Hancock was introduced as a potential future prime minister when he presented the annual Keith Joseph memorial lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies think tank. That endorsement carried its usual jinx: Hancock today lost his key post as Cabinet Office minister in the latest twist of Prime Minister Theresa May’s reshuffle. He has been moved to minister of state responsible for digital policy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - a role in which he will not attend Cabinet.
His replacement is Ben Gummer (pictured), MP for Ipswich and a former junior minister for care quality. The role of Cabinet Office minister and paymaster general is a big step up for the 38 year-old still best known in Westminster as the son of John Selwyn Gummer (now Lord Deben), environment secretary under John Major.
Ben Gummer is a history graduate and author of a book on the Black Death. Before going in to politics he was managing director of the environmental consultancy company set up by his father.
Hancock had little more than a year at the Cabinet Office, where he stepped into the shoes of Francis Maude after the 2015 general election. However, he had begun to establish a reputation as an innovative thinker who understood the transformative power of technology.
For example, at the Keith Joseph memorial lecture in June, Hancock floated the idea of an Uber-style platform allowing local authorities, with appropriate safeguards, to buy services directly from care workers, thus cutting out agency fees and allowing direct user feedback.
He also evangelised about open data, saying: “We are already world leaders at this, with a blossoming data economy to show for it, but there is much more to do.” At DCMS he may get that chance.
Gummer will no doubt pick up on these ideas and more when he takes on the challenge of transforming the moving target of a government machine struggling with massive budget cuts and the unsettling effects of Brexit. And no doubt the prime minister has good reasons for picking him out for promotion.
However, as Maude showed under the coalition, continuity is valuable in this key but low public profile post.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0