Pritchard set to leave GDS for new role at Office for National Statistics

Government Digital Service chief operating officer Fiona Deans will take over as interim director
Alison Pritchard, photographed by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

By Sam Trendall

25 Aug 2020

Alison Pritchard is leaving her role as interim boss of the Government Digital Service to take on the post of director general for data capability at the Office for National Statistics.

Fiona Deans, who joined GDS as chief operating officer in 2018 will take over from Pritchard on an interim basis. Pritchard is due to start at the ONS in early October. 

Deans’ pending promotion was announced in a blog post by Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm.

“I’m absolutely certain she will steer us well through the months ahead,” he said. “I will be writing again in the next few weeks with further detail on the process for recruiting a permanent successor.”

Chisholm, who also serves chief operating officer of the civil service, commended the contribution made by Pritchard since she was appointed to the helm of GDS – also on an interim basis – in August last year.

“I am grateful to Alison for the direction and leadership she has provided to GDS,” he said. 

“It has been a challenging 12 months during which GDS has performed a vital role at the centre of the government’s preparations for EU exit and the ongoing response to Covid-19 – under considerable scrutiny. 

“Alison was an integral part of the team to secure investment in data programmes as part of the 2019 Budget, including the new Data Standards Authority, and we can look forward to collaborating with her further on this critical agenda.”

In her new post at the ONS, Pritchard will remain a key figure in the government digital and data landscape, Chisholm said.

“The director general for data capability at ONS will drive the transformation of data services available to analysts, decision-makers and the public, mobilising data held by departments and providing an authoritative and compelling public face for this agenda,” he said. 

“Alison will be responsible for leadership of all aspects of data capability at ONS. This will include the delivery of digital services including utilising data from across government and the private sector to enable the production of better statistics, the delivery of technical platforms which are efficient and resilient to support digital services and the transformation of business processes.”

News of the imminent change at the top of GDS came as the Cabinet Office announced that it had begun the recruitment process for a newly created role as government chief digital officer. The postholder, who will assume a permanent secretary-level position, will sit at the head of government's Digital, Data and Technology profession – a responsibility which has, until now, sat with the boss of GDS.

The digital chief will be recruited instead of the government chief digital and information officer, a post that was advertised last autumn but was never filled.

Pritchard’s appointment at the ONS was one of two senior roles announced yesterday by the body, which is an executive office of the UK Statistics Authority.

It also confirmed that Sam Beckett would become second permanent secretary and deputy chief executive of the ONS from early September.

Beckett served as interim perm sec at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for three months until Sarah Munby took on the role last month.

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title Public Technology, where a version of this story first appeared.

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