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Laurie Clarke

Reporter

Amazon UK executive to advise GDS on gov.uk

The current boss of Amazon’s UK and Ireland operations Doug Gurr will advise the UK government on its official website (gov.uk) before starting a new position as head of the Natural History Museum.

His temporary role as an adviser to the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service team (GDS) comes as an unprecedented number of people are relying on the government site for support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

GDS was established in 2011 and has been tasked with consolidating a number of government sites under gov.uk.

“Gurr is an interesting choice, coming from an online retail background, where web presence is vital to survival and growth of business rather than service provision,” says Rob Anderson, principal analyst of public sector tech at Global Data. However, the appointment is not that unusual given the Cabinet Office’s habit of hiring people from the private sector.

“I’m not aware that the gov.uk domain has suffered any degradation or outages due to increased demand in the period of lockdown so not sure why they are bringing anyone in at the moment to review this area,” says Anderson.

“I’d also be very surprised if GDS were minded to move away from the stripped-down clean UI that they have developed and maintained over the past few years – it is notably different to the Amazon model.”

The IT systems of the Department for Work and Pensions, on the other hand, did suffer amid a record number of people applying for universal credit.

The government has launched 69 user-facing services since the start of the coronavirus crisis, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the furlough scheme. In late May, it said it planned to launch a further 46 services over the coming months.

However, the Sunday Telegraph, which broke the news of Gurr’s appointment, reported that there have been calls for more support to be provided. Last week the Treasury Select Committee said there were some “critical gaps in provision”, especially for freelancers and recent employees.

“The Government must assist these people if it is to completely fulfil its promise to do whatever it takes to protect people from the economic impact of coronavirus,” the committee’s interim report said.

Previously, Gurr spent two years as a non-executive at the HM Land Registry, meaning he has some experience of government, albeit in a more commercially focused role.

Amazon and the Cabinet Office declined to comment.