Extent of changes to GDS top team revealed

Shake-up at top of Government Digital Service becomes more apparent as former director of digital engagement Wendy Coello announces new role at the Co-op

By Rebecca Hill

03 May 2017

The Government Digital Service’s former director of digital engagement has announced she has started a new role as head of colleague and member communications at the Co-op in Manchester.

Wendy Coello, who worked at GDS for just over five years, was one of the early leaders within the service, working first for its founding director Mike Bracken, and then, from summer 2015, his successor Stephen Foreshew-Cain.

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Both Bracken and Foreshew-Cain - who left in a surprise move in August 2016 - now work at the Co-op, as chief digital officer and chief operating officer, respectively, and are part of a growing contingent of former GDS staffers working at the Manchester-based company.

They include former GDS technical architect Mat Wall, deputy director Tom Loosemore, director of strategy Russell Davies and director of design Ben Terrett - who all joined in the last six months of 2015 - while former head of content design Sarah Richards joined in May 2016.

Coello announced her move on Twitter yesterday (2 May), saying that she was excited to be starting her new role on the communications team.

Coello’s departure is the latest in a series of changes to the top team at GDS under its new leader Kevin Cunnington, who was brought in from the Department for Work and Pensions and given a more senior title in the civil service hierarchy, of director general.

This has seen a number of key figures resign from GDS, while Cunnington reshuffles the senior leadership team to match his style and vision for the service.

The departures began with GOV.UK Verify director Janet Hughes, who stepped down just two weeks after Foreshew-Cain left GDS.

Her resignation was followed by data champion Paul Maltby, chief technology officer Andy Beale HR director for the digital, data and technology profession, Susana Burlevy - who all left the service towards the end of last year.

And just last month, former chief operating officer Alex Holmes announced he had moved to become deputy director of cyber security at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

This leaves just three of the nine people Foreshew-Cain name-checked as being the “strong leadership team” he was leaving behind when he announced his departure: Iain Patterson, Olivia Neal and Chris Ferguson, who all remain at GDS.

Senior leadership reshuffle

Meanwhile, a recent Freedom of Information request revealed the exact makeup of the GDS leadership team under Cunnington - and the extent of the changes he has made.

According to the Cabinet Office records, the GDS leadership team on 31 March 2016 was made up of Foreshew-Cain, Patterson, Maltby, Ferguson, Coello, Holmes, Liam Maxwell and Felicity Singleton.

Maxwell left GDS in April 2016, having been appointed as the UK’s national technology adviser, while Singleton remains at the service in her role as engagement director for enabling strategy.

However, the FOI response suggests that neither Singleton nor Patterson are still part of the top team - the response does not list them as holding any of the nine positions in the current GDS management team.

In addition to Cunnington, seven of these roles are filled on a permanent basis, by: Nic Harrison, director of service design and assurance; Emily Ackroyd and Hazel Hobbs, who job-share the role of director of strategy and engagement; Alex Segrove, deputy director of business operations; and Amy Longdon, the head of the private office.

Two positions are held on an interim basis, with recruitment underway for full-time staff - Arif Harbott as director of the digital, data and technology profession and David Lewis as director for delivery and support.

Cunnington’s decision to reorganise the top team at GDS comes as the service is under pressure to evolve its position in Whitehall.

In March, the National Audit Office issued a damning report that said GDS was struggling to redefine its role after its initial successes at driving radical reforms through government, and urged it to offer more clarity on its strategy and accountabilities.

The service is also expected to grow to up to 900 staff members this year, as it takes on new office space near Aldgate in East London, which Cunnington has said will be a “positive challenge” as the current office is “at the point now where we are creaking at the seams”.

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