The Cabinet Office will remain the home of the Government Digital Service, according to minister for implementation Oliver Dowden.
Six weeks ago, the prime minister confirmed that cross-government responsibility for data policy, sharing, and governance was to be moved from GDS to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
But, speaking at the Sprint 18 event held by GDS yesterday, the Cabinet Office’s minister for implementation Oliver Dowden – whose brief includes responsibility for GDS as well as for the civil service – said that the move “really is a technical change, and should not be seen as a change of direction”.
“That change has been long under discussion, and was approved before I became minister,” he said. “It was a sensible decision.”
It was stressed that only a relatively small team of policy professionals were transitioned as part of the move; around 15 people are understood to have left the 850-strong GDS organisation to join DCMS. Data scientists, meanwhile, remain in the employ of GDS.
When asked by Civil Service World's sister title PublicTechnology whether the Cabinet Office would continue to be seen by government as the natural home for GDS, Dowden said “of course”.
He added: “In terms of the core function of GDS – which is the delivery of government digital services... that clearly remains within the Cabinet Office – and will continue to do so.”
While the centre of government will retain the brief for driving digitisation of public services, the implementation minister explained that he works “very closely” with culture secretary Matt Hancock, whose department holds responsibility for the digital and data economy.
Dowden also claimed that the recent changes to digital and technology spend controls – which give departments greater ability to self-approve “business-as-usual” spending – represent a natural development of the policy.
In terms of the core function of GDS... that clearly remains within the Cabinet Office – and will continue to do so
He said: “Francis Maude introduced the controls process to make sure the Cabinet Office had a grip on the procurement process… but, if we get to a point where we feel confident that processes within departments are working well, we can start to… give departments greater freedom, and we can focus on the departments where we need to do more work. The end result will be improved procurement – if we are confident they have the right process in the first place.”
Dowden, who took over the implementation post as part of a cabinet reshuffle in January, saluted GDS’s achievements over the last five years, and said that the focus now would be on creating end-to-end services that took as their starting point user goals and journeys – rather than discrete departmental responsibilities.
“We still have more work ahead,” Dowden said. “One of the things I can do at GDS, as we move forward, is taking areas where you wouldn’t think there would be a digital solution, and using that to start expanding the boundaries of digital – so we get the end goal, where we have a fully digitised government.”