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DCMS appoints City Hall official as first head of data policy

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has appointed its first head of data policy as part of an initiative to reform how central government, the public sector and wider industry work with data.

Stephen Lorimer takes on the role following a four-year stint at City Hall, where he worked most recently on the Smart London Strategy. He was previously a research associate specialising in city design at UCL.

In a controversial move overseen by then culture secretary Matt Hancock, DCMS took control of the government’s data policy-making from the Cabinet Office and Government Digital Service (GDS) last year.

At the time, Mike Bracken – who had helped launch GDS – described the shake-up as “curious in the extreme”, warning that by moving data policy-making away from the centre of government, Downing Street was making it harder to effect institution-wide change.

“Last weekend, the UK seems to have made government a little bit slower, more siloed, harder to reform and more complex,” Bracken wrote in an article for NS Tech. “Without a clear statement of motivation, you have to ask: what is the user need?”

Lorimer has been tasked with leading the seven-strong data policy team and working alongside Gaia Marcus, head of data strategy, to devise the government’s national strategy for data. Marcus joined DCMS last year from Parkinson’s UK, where she was data strategy lead.

According to a job advert posted in June, Lorimer will “lead the delivery of high-priority policy projects commissioned directly by the DCMS senior management team, ministers, and the two governance boards – [the] Data Leaders Network and Data Advisory Board”.

A document outlining the job spec revealed the successful candidate would report to Yasmin Brooks, director of cyber security and data policy at DCMS. The salary band for the position, which is a grade 6 role, was advertised as £56,191 to £67,632.

Lorimer tweeted about the move. DCMS has been contacted for comment.

As NS Tech reported in June, the National Audit Office has warned that Whitehall’s dependence on poor quality data had compromised policy programmes and contributed to major public scandals, including Windrush.

The spending watchdog identified “a culture of tolerating and working around poor data” and said it was hindering the government’s ability to make evidence-based decisions and deliver new policies.

The new data strategy, which sets out to make the “the UK as a global leader on data, working collaboratively and openly across [departments]”, is expected to be published next year.