Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock hits back at Labour "sniping" over Government Digital Service

Hancock bats away Labour questions on GDS turnover – and praises services that take "less time than boiling an egg"

By matt.foster

21 Oct 2015

Matt Hancock has accused Labour of "sniping" over the future of GDS, as the Cabinet Office minister faced questions on the digital unit in the House of Commons. 

Earlier this week, shadow business and culture minister Chi Onwurah seized on figures – released after a parliamentary question to Hancock – which confirmed that six permanent members of staff had left GDS since May, with staff turnover in the year to September 30 standing at 19%.

Onwurah raised the fate of GDS at Cabinet Office questions in the Commons, praising the team as the "crown jewels of digital transformation globally".

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"But now we have the headline resignations – a fifth of all staff  leaving," she said. "Isn't it true that the minister's cutting back on their ambition to impress the chancellor ahead of the cuts at the Spending Review?"

Responding, Hancock downplayed the turnover rate, comparing it to the 30% rate for the wider Cabinet Office.

"We increased the funding to the GDS at the latest Budget, and the rate of turnover at the GDS is lower than in the Cabinet Office as a whole," he said, before heaping praise on the unit.

"GDS have been brilliant, they continue to be brilliant, whether it's the platforms for registering to vote – which takes less time than boiling an egg – finding an apprenticeship, or even registering for Lloyds shares earlier this month."

Conservative backbencher Matt Warman said the government had also tried to "embed" the lessons of GDS "across government", prompting Hancock to reply:

"As well as building a digital service that's cutting-edge, we have now over 200 digital leaders across Whitehall to drive that digital  transformation. And it would be very good to get cross-party support on that rather than sniping."

Labour's shadow digital minister Louise Haigh – making her first appearance at the despatch box in the digital brief – again tried to raise the issue.

"Levels of turnover in the Cabinet Office and GDS are unacceptably high and over the summer we saw the exodus of its senior leadership amid concerns that the future of the service will be downgraded from a delivery to a policy unit," she said.

"We also know that businesses are losing on average 33 working days a year because of outdated government digital services. Can the minister today reassure the House that his department is one of those resisting cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review that will seriously damage the prospects of thousands of businesses across the country?"

But Hancock batted away the question, saying: "We put more money into digital services in the Budget and maybe she should look into the facts before asking the questions."

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