Shake up continues at top of GDS

A raft of personnel changes have been unveiled at the Government Digital Service (GDS), after executive director Mike Bracken announced his intention to leave the digital team.

Bracken – who oversaw the creation of the nearly 700-strong cross-government unit – last week confirmed that he would leave Whitehall at the end of September to take up a post with the Co-Operative Group.

In a blog posted on GOV.UK on Tuesday, current GDS chief operating officer Stephen Foreshew-Cain announced that he would now be “stepping up to lead” the service, with a team of three current GDS officials also taking on new responsibilities. Four leaders – including GDS deputy director Tom Loosemore – are to leave Whitehall.

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Chris Ferguson – previously programme director of the government’s Verify user identification programme – will take charge of GDS’s digital group, while Felicity Singleton – current programme director of the Government as a Platform enabling strategy – will lead on digital policy and departmental engagement. Wendy Coello, currently in change of the digital engagement strand ofGDS, will now also oversee digital design, while Foreshew-Cain confirmed that Liam Maxwell will continue as Whitehall’s chief technology officer.

The GDS COO also used his post to announce the departure of three senior GDS leaders. According to Foreshew-Cain, deputy director Tom Loosemore, director of strategy Russell Davies, and director of design Ben Terrett have all “decided the time is right for them to move on as well”.

“All of GDS is incredibly grateful for the energy, leadership and direction (and stickers) Tom, Ben and Russell have given us over the past 5 years and we will miss them very much,” he added.

GDS’s head of user research Leisa Reichelt has separately announced that she is leaving to join the Australian government’s Digital Transformation Office.

Amid speculation about the government’s wider plans for GDS ahead of the Spending Review in the autumn, Foreshew-Cain said he had sought to ensure that the digital team had the “full backing” of both civil service chief executive John Manzoni and Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock.

Foreshew-Cain wrote: “When John and I talked about it last week, we talked about how far we’ve come and how our greatest strength is the people here.  Alongside making sure we continue to deliver our priorities this year, our focus is on gearing up for the Spending Review, and getting a settlement that will enable us to drive the government’s digital agenda forward.”

Loosemore – who has served as GDS deputy director since 2011 – used a post on his personal blog to say that while he would miss GDS “horribly” he believed the team remained in “capable” hands.

But he expressed some frustration at the pace of digital change in the civil service, saying the public “deserves better than the 19th century institutions of Whitehall are capable of delivering”.

He added: “Transformed digital services require transformed digital institutions. In the UK, the imperative of such a radical re-invention of the civil service is yet to be recognised. It will require bold, brave, reforming leadership from the centre; leadership with the conviction, commitment and authority required to successfully challenge the shape, the size and the dominant culture of Whitehall. 

“Come that revolution, I’ll be first in line to serve HMG again.”

Colin Marrs

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