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IfG calls for changes in GDS chief’s role


Mark Say Managing Editor

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A leading thinktank has called for the publication of an implementation plan for government transformation and more open working at the Government Digital Service (GDS).

The Institute for Government (IfG) has included the recommendations in a paper on the responsibilities of the head of function for digital, data and technology (DDaT) in the Civil Service, amounting to a critique of the role of GDS and director general Kevin Cunnington.

Written by the IfG’s former programme director Daniel Thornton, it highlights the importance of the role and highlights what is sees as shortcomings since the Government’s publication of its Transformation Strategy in February 2017.

These include the lack of an implementation plan to improve accountability, a shortage of detail on digital transformation in departmental plans, and the less frequent publication of service assessment standards. It also points to a decline in the frequency of blogging on digital government, suggesting this undermines the commitment to working openly at GDS.

One of the major shortcomings it identifies has been the lack of an implementation plan for the GOV.UK Verify online identity assurance service, which has made it difficult to clarify its relationship to the Government Gateway.

New job description

In response, the paper says there is a need for a revised job description for the head of DDaT in Whitehall, which includes leading the development then tracking an implementation plan for government transformation. It should also involve making the strategic case for cross-government services and encouraging the adoption of standards across the public sector.

It boils this down to four recommendations:

  • Clarify and encourage adoption of DDaT standards in the public sector.
  • Return GDS to open working, including the publication of service standard assessments.
  • Publish an implementation plan for transformation that should be reflected in departmental plans.
  • The head of DDaT should be a member of the Civil Service Board and report to it on the progress of implementation.

The paper says that government has made progress in digitising services reusing some, but it has been slow in other areas – such as creating a secure digital identity – and this is making it harder to realise the potential savings and reduce duplication.

“Clarifying and improving the effectively of the role of head of function for DDaT will make it more likely that the Government achieves its priorities in these areas,” it says.

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