Think tank calls for GDS to move into DCMS

In his foreword to Policy Exchange report on digital government, former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude opines that ‘progress has slipped in recent years’


A think tank has called for the Government Digital Service to be moved into the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

The Smart State, a new report from Policy Exchange, puts forward an “ambitious roadmap” of policies it believes will allow Whitehall to “realise its vision of a truly digital government”. 

The first item on the list of structural recommendations is that GDS ought to be set a “medium-term goal” of creating a single digital account that citizens could use to opt in and out of government services, and control which departments and agencies are permitted to access their data.

The second measure recommended by the report is that GDS should be moved to DCMS “which would be given responsibility for leading on digital transformation of government”.

In March, GDS’s data-policy function – understood to amount to about 15 people – was shifted over to DCMS. But minister for implementation Oliver Dowden earlier this month said that the remaining 850-strong GDS team would stay put as part of the Cabinet Office.

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Policy Exchange also recommends that, once in its new home, GDS should work with the government chief data officer “to manage a single, open roadmap of progress in digitalising core transactions and launching open APIs”.

Outside of GDS, each individual department should be mandated to provide annual updates offering “an explicit account of their progress in implementing digital transformation, with GDS scoring them on their progress”.

Other recommendations include trials of payment-by-results models in areas such as education, health, and welfare, and the creation within the Cabinet Office of a “new five-year innovation lab centred on AI and machine learning”. Also recommended is the creation of “a new set of privacy by default principles” by GDS, in tandem with the Information Commissioner’s Office and the nascent Centre for Data Ethics.

Francis Maude – who served as Cabinet Office minister during the creation of GDS in 2011, and oversaw its first few years in existence – wrote in his foreword to the report that the journey towards digital government has stalled somewhat of late.

“There are worrying signs that, in recent years, progress has slipped,” he said. “Without constant pressure from the centre, the natural tendency in any large organisation is for individual departments to slip back into defensive isolation. Government as a Platform will not happen without clear direction from the top. It is time to reboot. Government 2.0 is overdue.”

Sam Trendall

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