Cabinet Office takes charge of government use of data again

Move will ensure 'government departments and the decisions they make are properly joined up', Cabinet Office says
Photo: Michael Mandiberg/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Cabinet Office has once again taken control of the government’s use of data, two years after it transferred to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

In a machinery of government change announced by the prime minister yesterday, a new team in the Cabinet Office will take on responsibility for areas including open government, open data, data ethics, transparency and public-sector data policies.

The team will sit in the Government Digital Service initially, and five policy specialists are moving from DCMS to the Cabinet Office to join the new team.

“This change will help ensure that government data is used most effectively to drive policymaking and service delivery,” Boris Johnson said. The change comes two years after responsibility for data policy, governance, and sharing across government, as well as promoting data ethics, moved to DCMS.

At the time, then-prime minister Theresa May said the move would support work to "ensure the UK is fully realising the benefits of the data economy for all".

DCMS will retain responsibility for data policy for the economy and society, as wel as for the National Data Strategy.

"We remain committed to delivering an ambitious, pro-growth National Data Strategy later this year," a DCMS spokesperson said.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the change was “about making sure that government departments and the decisions they make are properly joined up”.

"It will allow the government to make the best use of data to deliver the best possible services for the people of the UK. It will enable cross-government work to be carried out, ensuring data is managed ethically while providing clear accountability through one central government department,” they added.

The change is effective immediately.

Gavin Freeguard, head of data and transparency at the Institute for Government think tank, said now that the switch has happened, "it’s time for government to stop shuffling deckchairs and set a direction".

That should include the publication of the National Data Strategy this year, he said, as well as clarity on the appointments of a government chief data officer, which was promised in 2017, and chief digital information officer, a new perm sec-level role that was advertised last year.

"With the use of personal data having sprung up the agenda through the coronavirus crisis, it’s particularly important that government is open about what it’s planning to do. This is a discussion that needs to be had in public, with the public," Freeguard added.

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