'GDS needs departmental buy-in - but for some its name is still mud', says techUK public services head

Written by Sam Trendall on 2 August 2017 in News
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Departments urged to reverse habit of working in silos and embrace pan-government tech strategy for the good of citizens

Photo: GDS Team

The public services leader of techUK has said that, to make its vision a reality, the Government Digital Service needs more support from the rest of Whitehall. But “there are some central government departments for whom the GDS name is still mud”, he added.

Owen Spottiswoode, head of programme for public services at the industry body, told CSW's sister title PublicTechnology that the complexion and focus of GDS and the wider central government technology strategy have changed a great deal over the years.

“It is horses for courses,” Spottiswoode said. “In the Mike Bracken and Francis Maude era, there was a disruptor attitude. The public sector needed to be shaken up, and I think that was a good call at that point in time.”


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He added: “Now, GDS is coming up against other [departments]. It requires buy-in from the people it is working with and it struggles to get that sometimes. I get the impression that Kevin [Cunnington] has been brought in to be a bit more conciliatory, and a bit less of a disruptor – which is sensible.”

Such propitiation may be necessary, Spottiswoode said, as GDS still faces resistance from departments that have long been used to operating autonomously and in effective isolation.

“Government has been set up to be siloed and, when someone comes in and tells a department what to do, [they do not like it],” he said. “There are some central government departments for whom the GDS name is still mud." 

Spottiswoode added: “But the point of GDS is a sound one. Citizens do not think ‘this is an HMRC service, or a BEIS service’ – they just want a joined-up, seamless experience. So, there is a strong rationale for what GDS is doing – but they need buy in.”

  • Look out in the coming days for a full write-up of the techUK’s public sector chief’s discussion with PublicTechnology.
About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared.

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Comments

Paul Twyman (not verified)

Submitted on 2 August, 2017 - 14:08
It is not just civil servants in departments who find - and still find - the GDS exasperating. So do users/citizens. .Mike Bracken was an interesting speaker and talked a good talk. Unfortunately he and his people were not so good at listening. This meant that too many of their Stalinist control-freak ideas were ill thought out and poorly implemented. If Kevin Cunnington is going to change that then we wish him well - but he is going to have his work cut out changing the attitude of his staff. I would, however, take issue with the notion that citizens do not think in terms of an HMRC or BEIS service. For example, I think the punter would prefer to deal with an easily identifiable organisation rather than the poorly organised, daft navigation of the amorphous yet complicated blob which is GOV.UK.

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