Amazon hosting deal with GDS doubles to £6.6m as minister fends off questions over UK chief’s advisory role

New contract came into effect on 1 July, as minister claims "robust measures" in place to mitigate against possible conflicts of interest
Photo: Kris Tripplaar/SIPA USA/PA Images

By Sam Trendall

06 Oct 2020

Amazon Web Services has been awarded a £6.62m one-year deal to host products developed by the Government Digital Service – double the amount it spent with the cloud firm last year.

The contract was made public as a Cabinet Office minister headed off questions about a possible conflict of interest after GDS retained Amazon UK boss Doug Gurr as an adviser.

Newly-published procurement information reveals that the hosting deal came into effect on 1 July and runs until 30 June 2021. Scant detail is provided in the award notice, beyond stipulating that AWS will be tasked with providing a “flexible hosting environment for digital products”.

The contract will replace a deal that expired on 30 June. That agreement, which also lasted for 12 months, was worth £3.35m – meaning that GDS’s requirement for AWS storage has doubled in the space of a year.

The previous two-year contract that ran from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2019 was worth the equivalent of £1.11m a year.

The expanded use of AWS services comes shortly after it emerged that Gurr, the UK boss of Amazon, was asked to contribute to a review of the government’s digital, data and technology function. He is also on the panel that will shortly conduct final interviews to select the first appointee to the newly created £200,000-a-year role of government chief digital officer.

Answering a series of questions from Labour life peer Lord Philip Hunt concerning Gurr’s role in advising GDS, Cabinet Office minister Lord Nicholas True said the Amazon head was one of “several members of the Digital Economy Council [who] were invited to contribute to [the] review… as part of the wider civil service modernisation and reform programme”. 

“The review was limited to the processes, structures and operations of the DDaT function, and did not consider particular strategies for government,” True said.

“The Cabinet Office will continue to consult members of the Digital Economy Council as it considers how to implement the recommendations. As always, robust measures are in place to manage possible conflicts and the perception of conflicts.”

When it emerged that Gurr would have a hand in choosing the government chief digital officer, the Civil Service Commission told CSW's sister title PublicTechnology that its representatives “are there to ensure that the process is fair and open to all candidates, and that all conflicts of interest are declared and addressed”.

It is understood that Gurr’s existing role as a non-executive director of HM Land Registry – as well as the fact that he is due to leave Amazon by the end of year to take charge of the Natural History Museum – were considered in ratifying his inclusion on the appointment panel.

At the time, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The new government chief digital officer is a critical role, with the successful candidate responsible for shaping digital transformation and innovation strategies for all of government.

"To reflect this, the interview panel has been designed to include both senior government officials and specialists in the field. This is entirely normal for such positions."

While greatly increased in size, the new GDS deal represents a small fraction of Amazon’s overall government cloud-storage business. 

In the last 18 months, its contract wins have included a £100m deal with a Home Office, a £20m engagement with HM Revenue and Customs, a £9m contract with the Ministry of Justice, and a deal with HM Land Registry worth up to £4.8m.

Alongside Gurr, the Digital Economy Council also features representatives of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple as well as other tech industry figures, academics and ministers – including council chair Oliver Dowden, the digital secretary.

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared.

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