Government shakes up digital leadership

Home Office tech chief Davinson appointed leader of newly created Central Digital and Data Office while Read arrives from MoJ to head up GDS
Joanna Davinson, executive director, CDDO. Photo: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

By Sam Trendall

14 Jan 2021

Government has shaken up its digital leadership structure, including the creation of a Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) to lead tech strategy across departments and the appointment of a new leader for the Government Digital Service.

The CDDO, which is due to open in early February, will sit within the Cabinet Office and will be led by executive director Joanna Davinson (pictured above). She joins from the Home Office, where she has served as chief digital, data and technology officer since 2017. 

Paul Willmott, chief digital adviser of the LEGO Brands Group, will act as chair of the new entity – an unpaid, non-executive role.

Tom Read, meanwhile, has been appointed as chief executive of GDS. He joins from the Ministry of Justice, where he has worked since 2016 as chief digital and information officer.

It is understood that the Central Digital and Data Office will not supersede GDS but rather work alongside the digital agency, with Read and Davinson each reporting into Alex Chisholm, civil service chief operating officer and permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office.

The CDDO is described as the “new strategic centre for digital, data and technology for the government”. 

The remit of GDS in the coming months will include “standards, controls and assurance functions, and [to] enhance [its] focus on the development and delivery of new digital products and services”.

Late last summer, the Cabinet Office announced that – for the second time in the space of a year – it had opened recruitment for the post of government chief digital officer. The intention was to appoint someone to work with leaders in individual departments and be “responsible for shaping the digital transformation and innovation strategies for all of government”.

Although Davinson will not carry this title, is it understood that her appointment marks the culmination of the drive to recruit a leader to oversee digital and data strategy on a cross-government basis, and a subsequent appointment of a GCDO is not now likely to be made. 

The planned responsibilities of the GCDO included sitting at the head of the government-wide digital, data and technology function, and leading the 18,000 civil servants that represent the civil service DDaT profession – duties that will now be assumed by Davinson.

The former Home Office tech leader will also, over the coming months assemble a team about a dozen people that will, at least in the short term, comprise the Central Digital and Data Office. 

One of these appointments will, it is understood, be a government chief data officer – a role that has never been filled, despite its creation being announced back in February 2017.

Davinson said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be chosen to lead the government digital, data and technology profession and community and to have the opportunity to shape government digital, data and technology on a national scale.

"I am looking forward to working with department chief digital information officers and their teams and with other colleagues across government, to develop and deliver the strategies and plans that enable the UK to lead the way in serving its citizens by being one of the most digitally advanced governments in the world.”

New GDS chief executive Tom Read replaces Fiona Deans who has, for the last five months, led the organisation as interim director general. She will now return to her previous role as GDS chief operating officer.

Read said: “To have the opportunity to lead Government Digital Service into its next era is incredibly exciting and one that I cannot wait to get started on. Never has it been more important to build, deliver and support services that are fundamentally based on the needs of our users.

"I look forward to delivering a refreshed focus on the development and delivery of digital products and services underpinned by strong digital standards.”

The work of GDS and the CDDO will be overseen at a ministerial level by Julia Lopez, a parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office. 

She said: “I'm delighted to announce these three impressive appointments, whose mix of skills and experience will enhance our digital, data and technology leadership capability and make real our ambition to deliver the public with better, more personalised public services that will enhance our reputation as the world’s most digitally-advanced government."

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

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