The Institute for Government has called for Whitehall’s head of function for digital, data and technology (DDaT) to be given a new job description that focuses more heavily on implementing the government’s digital transformation plans.
The think tank said the role, currently held by director general of the Government Digital Service Kevin Cunnington, should involve putting together a plan for the implementation of the Government Transformation Strategy, which was published last year and covers the period 2017 to 2020.
Daniel Thornton, programme director at the IfG and report author, also called for the head of DDaT to become a member of the Civil Service Board, and to renew GDS’s focus on open working.
The head of the DDaT function leads 17,000 professionals across government, and is responsible for standards, building capability and shaping cross-government strategies within that function.
The report, part of the IfG’s work on professionalising Whitehall, noted progress made across government in digitising services, such as the GOV.UK Notify service. But it also said that “in key areas such as creating a secure digital identity for those using public services [GOV.UK Verify], progress has been slow”.
Thornton said that developing and spreading standards, including to the local government and NHS sectors, had been “one of the main achievements of successive heads of DDaT”. However, he said that a previous IfG recommendation to clarify digital standards, including by distinguishing better between guidance and standards, had not been acted on.
He also noted “a decline in the frequency of blogging on digital government” and in the publication of service standard assessments, undermining the commitment made by GDS at its inception in 2011 to work in the open. This has made it “harder to assess the performance of the head of DDaT function,” he said.
The report’s recommendations for the DDaT head include leading a return to the practice of open working at GDS; publishing a “government transformation implementation plan” setting out how many services have been digitised and how far departments are using shared digital services; and becoming a member of the Civil Service Board to report on progress made on that plan.
“Publication of an implementation plan for the Government Transformation Strategy would improve accountability, both of the head of DDaT and of departments,” Thornton wrote in the report.
He added that in the case of GOV.UK Verify – which is not on track to meet its targets on the number of sign-ups and is being ignored by many users in favour of HMRC’s Government Gateway – an implementation plan could have clarified the relationship between the two services, and the role of the former.
He also pointed out that the many large companies with federated structures similar to the Whitehall model have heads of cross-cutting functions sitting on their central management boards.
The report concluded that its recommendations should be reflected in a “revised job description for the head of DDaT function”. It suggested a series of additions to the role’s existing responsibilities, including: “Agree a Government Transformation Implementation Plan with departments and publish the plan. Track implementation of the plan. As a member of the Civil Service Board, report to the Board on progress.”