Loss of key advocate for digital reform casts doubt on Whitehall’s transformation agenda
Gummer took up post as Cabinet Office minister in 2016 – but has now lost his Ipswich seat to Labour Credit: PA
Ben Gummer, the Cabinet Office minister in charge of the digital transformation agenda in Whitehall, has lost his seat in a major general election upset.
Gummer, who took up post only last year and played a crucial role in drawing up both Theresa May’s election manifesto and this year’s Government Transformation Strategy, was one of the most high-profile Conservative MPs to lose his seat in a tough night for the governing party.
He lost the Ipswich seat he has has held since 2010 to Sandy Martin, leader of the Labour group on Suffolk County Council. Martin won the seat with a slender majority of just 831.
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Gummer’s departure – and the wider election result, which saw the Conservatives lose their overall majority – leaves a series of question marks over digital strategy in government.
Earlier this year, Gummer – who was well-regarded by many Whitehall insiders for his consultative approach and enthusiasm for digital – described the Government Transformation Strategy as “the most ambitious programme of change of any government anywhere in the world”.
The strategy, which was repeatedly delayed and which began under Gummer’s predecessor Matt Hancock, set out plans to fix back-end systems, boost the use of data and encourage culture change within Whitehall.
The Tories went into the election with a manifesto that drew heavily on the Transformation Strategy, pledging to back “digital government and public services, using data and digital technology to transform school choice, local services and issues like planning and social care”.
The party also pledged to “rationalise the use of personal data within government”; open up performance data to shed more light on public services; establish a Data Use and Ethics Commission to “advise regulators and parliament on the nature of data use and how best to prevent its abuse”; and place the National Data Guardian for Health and Social Care on a statutory footing “to ensure data security standards are properly enforced”.
Whether any of those commitments will survive Gummer’s defeat and the wider political wranglings of the next few days is now far from certain. Gummer’s defeat as an MP is, however, likely to mean that the civil service will get its third new minister for the Cabinet Office in as many years.
Such churn is in stark contrast to the relatively long stint in office enjoyed by Tory grandee Francis Maude, who was able to use his five years as minister for the Cabinet Office to drive the creation of the Government Digital Service, centralise procurement, and launch the single GOV.UK website.
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