Former GDS chief cleared to work for Canadian government

Kevin Cunnington will be an unpaid adviser to Department for Work and Pensions equivalent
Kevin Cunnington Credit: GDS

By Jim Dunton

07 Jul 2021

Former Government Digital Service director general Kevin Cunnington has been cleared to take up a new role supporting the Canadian equivalent of the Department for Work and Pensions, it has emerged.

Cunnington, who ran GDS from 2016 to 2019, has most recently served as UK digital envoy and inaugural director general of the International Government Service – a new body tasked with promoting the work of UK government services internationally.

However documents just published by anticorruption watchdog the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments reveal that Cunnington formally left government in February and has since been cleared to take up an advisory role with Service Canada, described as the North American nation’s counterpart to DWP.

The approval letter states that Cunnington’s role with Service Canada will be unpaid and involve him joining a panel of “external experts” who provide guidance to the organisation’s chief operating officer and members of its ministerial team to help improve its offer of programmes and services.

Acoba said areas Cunnington expected to cover included best practice in service delivery; service transformation, administration, design and delivery; service-level optimisation and cost effectiveness; trends and future directions related to the way services are provided; and immediate and future service challenges that the government of Canada may face.

It added that Cunnington said his responsibilities would include attending four meetings a year and advising Service Canada on the papers, topics and discussions presented. “He does not expect his role to involve contact with the government,” Acoba said.

Acoba’s decision letter approved Cunnington’s application, noting that his last day in paid service for the UK government had been 28 February this year and that the Cabinet Office had not objected to the request to work for Service Canada.

The letter acknowledged “inherent risks” that the former GDS and IGS director general would have general access to policy and information that could be perceived to benefit Service Canada. But it said Cunnington had “not had access or involvement with any relevant policy in his recent role government”.

The letter added that the Business Appointment Rules for former senior civil servants and ex-ministers contained a ban on using privileged information obtained during government service, or using contacts for the “unfair advantage” or the new organisation for two years from March.

The rules also bar Cunnington from providing advice on bids and contracts with the UK government within two years of his last day as a civil servant, which Acoba said would help in “mitigating the risk of impropriety in relation to Mr Cunnington’s contacts and influence across the government”. 

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