Dowden: Digital spending controls remain crucial to work of ‘more collaborative’ GDS

Role of government’s central digital team is evolving but central oversight is still required on policies such as IT disaggregation, minister tells PublicTechnology


By Richard Johnstone

14 Nov 2018

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden has insisted that the Government Digital Service continues to use spending controls to drive the government technology and procurement policy despite moves to a lighter touch regime.

In an interview with Civil Service World’s sister title PublicTechnology at the GovTech Summit that took place at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris this week, Dowden said the work of GDS had evolved since the central agency was formed by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, but its work remained critical.


“Necessarily, when we first set it up it required a sort of big heavy push to get it going, and Francis achieved a great deal in terms of setting it up in the first place. And I think over time… clearly the relationship evolves, so I think there has been a move towards a more collaborative approach,” he said.

“Now that GDS… is entrenched in the sense that it is working at scale across government, I think that the approach needs to continue to evolve.”

Key roles for GDS include setting standards, helping departments understand how technology can be applied effectively such as through the innovation strategy, Dowden said, as well as continuing oversight of government technology spending.

In May, the Cabinet Office overhauled the application of spend controls for commercial and digital and technology spending and implemented a lighter-touch “pipeline” model offering the potential for departments to more easily dedicate government money to “business as usual” spending.

However, asked if spending controls were here to stay, Dowden replied: “Oh, yeah, definitely”.

He added: “I think that what has evolved with the controls process is just differentiating according to the development of different departments. So, if we have assurance that the controls are being applied well by departments, then we can take a lighter touch with them.” However, he still regularly used controls to continue to challenge departments to implement the government’s policies around splitting up big IT deals and opening up more opportunities for small- and medium-sized companies.

“I ask for advice about how successful contracts are for SMEs,” he said. “It is still important that ministers have an oversight of the controls process and continue to seek controls routinely because – and this is why Francis set the up in the first place – to actually ensure that, alongside the spending mechanism that we have exercised by the Treasury, we also have a procurement and government delivery strategy applied by the Cabinet Office. So, for me, it remains an important function.

“As departments’ capabilities develop, we need to also help departments along that path of developing capabilities, so whether that is setting standards, whether it’s setting training; GDS needs to be both a challenger and a facilitator – and that is the approach that it has always taken.”

Read the full interview with PublicTechnology editor Sam Trendall here

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