Kevin Cunnington, the new head of the Government Digital Service, has hit back at speculation that the surprise change of leadership signals the end for the central service.
Cunnington was drafted in from the Department for Work and Pensions to replace Stephen Foreshew-Cain as the head of GDS at the start of this week, prompting some commentators to warn that the future of a centralised authority for Whitehall's digital services was under threat.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson said the move marked a "Whitehall coup", while former Cabinet Office official Andrew Greenway described it as a victory for officials "who believe a government organised along Victorian lines is still fit for fixing today’s problems".
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But, writing in an introductory blogpost, Cunnington vowed that the service was here to stay.
“I’ve read many times about the end of GDS, but it has always come back stronger than before,” Cunnington wrote.
“I want to tackle one thing head on: GDS will not be broken up. We remain part of the Cabinet Office with a clear mandate to lead digital, technology and data across government.”
Cunnington also stressed that GDS contiuned to have the full support of John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service.
And he said that, by appointing him director general of GDS – which is a change in title from Foreshew-Cain’s title of executive director – Manzoni was “making it clear that this organisation matters, and is here to stay”.
Meanwhile Cunnington's blog also set out his initial plans for his time as leader, which he said would start by getting to know the team and listen to their ideas, plans and concerns.
“That’s going to take a few weeks,” he wrote. “After that, I’ll write another post here with some more thoughts.”
He also took the opportunity to praise Foreshew-Cain for leaving the team “in a great position” by securing funding for the rest of this parliament – GDS was awarded £450m in the last Spending Review.
Earlier this week, the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that it would not be replacing Cunnington’s former role of director general for business transformation at the department.
His responsibilities are to be spread between Mayank Prakash in a newly-created role of chief digital information officer and the other directorates in the DWP.