Recruitment of chief digital and information officer ‘still ongoing’, Cabinet Office claims

Applications for newly created perm sec-level position closed more than 10 months ago, since when updates have been scarce
Photo: Amtec Photos/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Sam Trendall

17 Aug 2020

The nearly year-long recruitment process for the newly created position of government chief digital and information officer is “still ongoing”, the Cabinet Office has claimed.

The creation of the £180,000-a-year GCDIO post – a permanent secretary-level role that is intended to sit at the head of government’s digital, data and technology profession – was announced last September. Applications closed on 7 October and interviews were originally scheduled to take place the following month.

The announcement of an appointment was due sometime in the weeks thereafter.

The postholder was then intended to take on a government-wide brief leading the development and implementation of technology, data, and transformation strategies across departments.

In the absence of any substantive update on the recruitment process in many months, CSW's sister title PublicTechnology asked the Cabinet Office for an update. 

A representative said the recruitment process is “still ongoing”.

But the department would not be drawn on whether this means candidates from the application process that closed 10 months ago are still being assessed, or whether the role will be readvertised at some point. Nor would it provide a definitive answer on whether the plan remains that the position will still be created and filled at some point.

When the plan to hire a GCDIO was first announced, then-Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said the creation of the position was “a signal of how important we think effective, integrated online government is”.

“This will be a role at permanent secretary level – the first time, I believe, someone at permanent secretary level has been appointed to lead a function,” he told attendees at the annual Sprint conference hosted by the Government Digital Service in September 2019. 

Dowden added: “Their job will be to ensure that we deliver cross-government strategies for transformation, data, cybersecurity, and innovation. They will design and implement standards which improve delivery outcomes, reduce risk and enable value for money in departments.

"Crucially, they will ensure that we are equipping government departments with the skills needed to reform, develop and thrive. We’re looking for someone world class, with the skills and experience to up the pace of transformation and be your champion within Whitehall.”

As long as the role remains unfilled, the director general of GDS – Alison Pritchard – sits at the head of the DDaT profession. 

Given that the GCDIO was also due to have taken on direct accountability for the 850 people employed by GDS, it has never been entirely clear how the new role would interact with the director general position.

Speaking to PublicTechnology in late February 2020, Pritchard – who was appointed interim director general in August 2019 – said that, however the two posts worked together, she would be supportive of the new appointee.

“I’m anticipating that they will need a top team to support them,” she said. “I haven’t hidden the fact that I am interim director general – but I’d be very happy to continue, and support a GCDIO.”

She added: “I think the difference of bringing in someone at permanent secretary-level will be their ability to set and engage digital strategies across government, operating at a different level than we’ve been able to do as GDS – where we’ve been seen almost like a peer to other bits of government.

"You would anticipate a government CDIO to be able to operate a strategic level and align the different approaches that major departments are undertaking. We’re talking about very large departments with very big roles – including MoD, DWP, HMRC – the GCDIO has got to be able to bring alignment to a very complex, but very powerful, set of deliverables.”

Read the most recent articles written by Sam Trendall - Scores of GDS staff moved to new Central Digital and Data Office

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