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GDS’s “first class” service “threatened” by succession of ministerial changes

Theresa May’s botched reshuffle has paved the way for a new minister to oversee the Government Digital Service.

The appointee will become the fourth minister in two years to take over the reins at GDS, giving rise to fears of a lack of ministerial direction at the unit.

Caroline Nokes, the minister previously responsible for GDS, was moved from the Cabinet Office to the Home Office earlier this week, seven months after she was appointed.

Nokes took over in June 2017 from Ben Gummer, who lost his seat in last year’s election. Gummer replaced Matt Hancock, now culture secretary, in June 2016. Hancock had led the unit for 13 months.

Russ Shaw, the founder of Tech London Advocates, said the “relatively rapid” changeover threatened a service recognised as first class by technology executives around the world.

“If you have a succession of leadership changes I think it makes it really difficult to get in and understand what’s required to ensure that the digital service is truly first class,” he warned.

“It will take, I think, a fair amount of time to understand the capabilities the government has, what the issues are, what improvements need to be made,” Shaw added. “If there’s a relatively rapid changeover leaving that particular area, that could be to the detriment of the gov.uk service.” 

The Cabinet Office has been landed with a new slate of ministers following this week’s reshuffle. David Lidington becomes minister for the Cabinet Office, while Oliver Dowden and Chloe Smith become parliamentary secretaries.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office could not confirm yesterday how the portfolios would be divided up, but told NS Tech an announcement was expected before the end of the week.

Alistair Smith, client director at enterprise IT consultancy Contino, said Nokes’ departure from GDS was “a little bit soon”, but added: “The opportunity to take some of the GDS thinking and experiencing into the immigration space at the Home Office is huge.”

A spokesperson for GDS said: “The Government Digital Service has led the digital transformation of Government and is a model that is being replicated internationally. GDS looks forward to working with the new ministerial team as we continue to deliver on the Government Transformation Strategy that was published in February 2017.”