New government department created by mistake

The curious case of the government department that wasn't
Photo: Steve Keall/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

21 Aug 2023

Eagle-eyed observers of GOV.UK might have spotted the creation of a new department, the Government People Group, on Friday afternoon. Had the government truly spawned a new department within the Cabinet Office with no announcement whatsoever? Had they accidentally revealed plans for a machinery of government overhaul? In fact, it was simply an error.

The Government People Group was accidentally assigned as a ministerial department within the Cabinet Office on the government website, CSW understands.

The GPG is a unit in the Cabinet Office created following the merger of Civil Service HR and Government Business Services which “exists to work with departments, professions, and functions to build a modern, effective civil service”. It got its own GOV.UK page on Friday afternoon, when the mistake occurred.

A page for the unit on GOV.UK, seen by CSW at 4pm on Friday afternoon, read “GPG is a ministerial department of the Cabinet Office and the civil service”. 

The GPG was also included on the government’s GOV.UK list of departments, agencies and public bodies on GOV.UK  as a ministerial department within the Cabinet Office alongside the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons and the Office of the Leader of the House of Lords. It would have been only the third ministerial-department-within-a-department across government.

Having been alerted by CSW about the creation of a new ministerial department, the Cabinet Office swiftly addressed the error. The department's short-lived existence ended at 6.15pm on Friday when the GOV.UK page was amended to say GPG is part of the Cabinet Office and the civil service. 

The Cabinet Office chose not to comment.

In an interview with CSW earlier this summer, Mark Thompson, director of data, platforms and interoperability in the Government People Group, set out some of the work the unit has been doing, including making it quicker to recruit people by using digital rather than paper-based identity checks, enabling officials to work more easily across different buildings by supporting the rollout of GovPass, and making it easier for people to move between jobs across the civil service by automating the transfer of pension information and identity verification to new employers. 

“You should be able to take any group of people from anywhere [in the civil service], any employer, and bring them together to solve a problem for government,” Thompson said.

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