GDS Verify chief Harrison to move back to DWP – but Cunnington to stay

Director of service design and assurance leaving post but – contrary to media reports – Kevin Cunnington understood to be remaining in place

GDS HQ Photo credit: Derwent London

By Sam Trendall

24 Aug 2018

The Government Digital Service’s director of service design and assurance Nic Harrison is to leave his post and return to a role at the Department for Work and Pensions, PublicTechnology has learned.

Harrison, whose major responsibility has been overseeing the development and implementation of the GOV.UK Verify identity assurance product, has been with GDS for two years. Prior to which, he worked in digital and cloud roles at the DWP between January 2014 and August 2016.

It is understood he will shortly be leaving GDS to rejoin his former employer, although it is not yet known in what capacity. 

Harrison is the second senior-management figure heading for the GDS exit door in the space of a month, following the news that GOV.UK leader Neil Williams is to take a post at Croydon Council.


Rumours have also circulated about the future of director general Kevin Cunnington, with media reports claiming Cunnington will depart at the close of his contract this summer – but a statement from the Cabinet Office said the head of GDS since 2016 would remain in place.

“The reports regarding Kevin stepping down from GDS are not true,” the spokesperson said. “He has successfully set GDS on a new direction focusing on transformation, collaboration and innovation. This has led to the recent publication of the technology innovation survey, launch of the GovTech Catalyst Programme and the Global Digital Marketplace. Kevin is as committed and passionate as ever about GDS and its future.”

Although GDS is still overseeing the rollout of Verify, responsibility for policymaking in the area of digital identity – including Verify and other tools – was recently moved to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

Although initial uptake lagged expectations, some 2.7 million people are now signed up to use Verify, with about 40,000 new users registering each week. Earlier this year GDS sought to bring in external developers to help meet its goals for increasing adoption of Verify, which can be used to access 18 government services. 

The Cabinet Office added that Harrison would return the DWP in line with his contract. “We would like to thank him for his contribution to GDS over the last couple of years, and look forward to collaborating with him in his new role at DWP. We will announce his replacement in due course."

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