Embattled GDS To Take On Digital Training Role


The digital service is to take control of the DWP’s training programme and establish a ‘digital hub’ in Aldgate

The Government Digital Service (GDS), designed to coordinate government implementations of new digital projects, is to move to a new headquarters and receive a broader role, including taking on digital training for government staff.

The changes, a continuation of prime minister Theresa May’s shake-up of central government, were announced by new Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer and follow one month after a surprise change in leadership at the GDS.

Training programme

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Kevin Cunnington, previously director general for business transformation at the Departent for Work and Pensions (DWP), took over from Stephen Foreshew-Cain in a move that some industry observers said reflected a confused and fragmented Whitehall digital strategy.

At the DWP Cunnington had oversight of the Digital Academy, which offers training and placements to staff across central government, and the academy will be developed under GDS going forward, the government said.

GDS is to move to a new headquarters in Aldgate before the summer of next year as part of a broader plan to create a digital hub in the area, Gummer told 500 GDS staff at their current premises at Aviation House, in Holborn, on Thursday.

The talk was Gummer’s first visit to GDS.

Broader focus

Cunnington’s appointment prompted speculation that GDS would be broken up, but the latest shift instead indicates a change in focus, as Cunnington made clear.

“More and more we are going to make the work from GDS about transformation — not just digital,” he stated.

Strategy ‘update’

Gummer said the moves were an effort to better coordinate the government’s digital efforts.

“We want our services to be simple, easy and efficient – I’m here today to reaffirm that commitment,” he said at the talk.

He said the government’s long-delayed digital strategy, originally due before the EU referendum, would be published by the end of the year.

“The Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy is also going to be updated to match the new and larger remit of GDS and to take into account the EU referendum vote,” Gummer said.

“We will have an updated and complete Digital Transformation Strategy before the end of the year,” Cunnington added in a statement.

Gummer said one of the government’s numerous digital initiatives, Gov.uk Pay, has accepted its first payment and should go live in the autumn.

Digital turmoil

Another major central government digital project, GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), is due to begin operations next month working out of a London headquarters.

The National Audit Office (NAO) in a study published earlier this week called the government’s information security efforts “confusing” and “chaotic” and called for stronger leadership from the Cabinet Office.

The government has been reworking government IT around services centres shared between different government departments, which the NAO previously said have caused considerable disruption to government departments’ back-end systems while delivering questionable savings.

The NAO has also recently delivered critical assessments of the government’s projects to update the emergency services’ communications network and the HMRC’s digital plans, both of which it said risked causing disruption by aiming at potentially unrealistic targets.

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