GDS to take over DWP's Digital Academy and leave Aviation House HQ

Shake-up comes just a month after the surprise appointment of the DWP's Kevin Cunnington (pictured) as director general of the Government Digital Service

By Rebecca Hill

15 Sep 2016

The Government Digital Service is to take ownership of the Department for Work and Pension’s Digital Academy to offer training to civil servants across Whitehall, as the Cabinet Office said the government’s long-delayed digital transformation strategy is due by the end of the year.

Alongside what the Cabinet Office is billing as a beefed-up role for GDS, is the news that the service is to leave its current office in Aviation House for “modern and expanded offices” in Aldgate, east London.

A statement from the Cabinet Office said the move — due to happen before summer 2017 — would “create a new Digital HQ and digital hub”. 

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Making the announcements during his first visit to GDS, Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer said that moving DWP’s digital academy to GDS would build capability across government and “give it a real national presence for the very first time”.

The shake-up comes just a month after the surprise change of leadership at GDS, when Kevin Cunnington (pictured), who was previously director general for business transformation at DWP, took over from Stephen Foreshew-Cain.

Cunnington also had oversight of the Digital Academy at DWP, which offers digital training courses to boost staff skills and often includes placements in digital teams across government.

The move to expand it under its existing leadership has already been welcomed by the Institute for Government, with Daniel Thornton, programme director at the IfG saying government “urgently needs to increase its digital capability”.

Meanwhile, Matthew Trimming, founder of market entry specialists META and a digital adviser to government during the 2015 Spending Review, told CSW’s sister sit that the academy was “the obvious candidate on which to build a broader digital profession across government”.

“If you didn’t have it you would have to invent it,” he said.

When Cunnington’s move to GDS was announced there was speculation that senior Whitehall leaders were planning to kill off the service and scatter staff across departments.

Today’s announcement, though, does indicates a shift in the role of GDS within government, with Cunnington saying in a statement: “More and more we are going to make the work from GDS about transformation — not just digital.”

But Trimming said this appeared to be a natural next step for GDS, signifying an “evolution and maturing of its role” across government.

“It’s not going to build another 25 exemplars, it will be more about supporting and guiding departments on major transformation projects,” he said.

“Kevin is going to focus on a lot more broad transformation agenda across Whitehall as an organisation. Bringing the academy in is a practical example that he will own that transformation and digital profession across government.”

Trimming also suggested it showed Cunnington had the respect of civil service chief executive John Manzoni.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office has said the government-wide digital transformation strategy — which was due before the referendum on membership of the European Union — is now being updated to reflect these changes.

“The government’s digital transformation strategy is also going to be updated to match the new and larger remit of GDS and to take into account the EU referendum vote and the challenges that the civil service now face,” it said.

Cunnington added that the update would be completed “before the end of the year”.

Gummer also announced that one of GDS’s flagship schemes — GOV.UK Pay — had taken its first transaction, with the first services coming online from the autumn.

“These are significant moments, not just for GDS and the Cabinet Office, but for the millions of people who use Government services every day,” Gummer said.

“Our message is clear: we are working hard to make life easier for the people of the UK. We want our services to be simple, easy and efficient - I’m here today to reaffirm that commitment.”

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