Former GDS chief gets green light to advise McKinsey

Kevin Cunnington's role at management consultancy will be limited to the Middle East

Photo: GDS

By Sam Trendall

03 Dec 2021

Former Government Digital Service director general Kevin Cunnington has been granted approval to take up an advisory role with McKinsey & Company.

The ex-official, who left the civil service earlier this year, has taken a position as a technical advisor at the management consultancy, according to documents released by government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. 

Cunnington told the committee that his duties would relate only to McKinsey’s operations in the Middle East – a geographic limitation which the Cabinet Office recommended be made a formal condition of approval for his appointment.

As well as agreeing to this condition, Acoba added stipulations that mean until February 2023, the former GDS boss cannot advise McKinsey on any matters relating to its work with the UK government or ongoing bids for Whitehall contracts.

Although this is a customary condition for the post-government roles taken on by former officials, it has particular relevance in Cunnington’s case. Earlier this year, McKinsey won a £3m contract to work with GDS and the Central Digital and Data Office to deliver “expert consultancy support to design the cross-departmental approach to tackling core digital, data and technology priorities” throughout government.

Among the company’s other big-ticket government contracts are a wide range of deals related to the coronavirus response – including almost £40m spent by the Department of Health and Social Care alone on consultancy and staffing support for initiatives such as the NHS Test and Trace programme, the vaccine rollout, and the distribution of PPE. 

In September 2020, McKinsey won a deal with the Cabinet Office worth up to £30m through which government organisations can access consultancy support for issues related to Brexit.

In the last few years, the firm has won various other six and seven-figure deals with a wide range of organisations, including the Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Foreign Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Cunnington told the committee his part-time role would “support [McKinsey's] consulting activities only in the Middle East region [with] technical expertise… based in the technology experiences that I acquired in the private and public sector over the course of my career”.

Cunnington’s most high-profile role in government was the three years he spent as director general of GDS from 2016 to 2019. The former Vodafone and T-Mobile executive first arrived in government via his previous role leading business transformation efforts at DWP. His final civil service position was as the head of the International Government Service and digital envoy for the UK government.

During his time at the helm of GDS, Cunnington told Acoba that he had worked on projects supported by McKinsey – “most notably” the consultancy’s work related to the Verify digital identity platform.

The committee’s green light for his new role follows approval granted earlier this year for the former digital government leader to provide unpaid advice to Service Canada: the Canadian government’s equivalent of DWP.

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

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