‘A wild year’ – GDS head Pritchard on Brexit, ministerial change and learning the drums

Alison Pritchard reflects on a busy 12 months, including sailing across the world and greeting government ministers in front of an industrial quantity of toilet paper

Credit: GDS

The annual perm secs round-up published by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World sees Whitehall’s senior leaders open up on their biggest challenges and opportunities – as well as their remembrances of Christmases past. Here Alison Pritchard (pictured above), director general of the Government Digital Service, discusses Michael Gove, learning the drums, and the dangers of believing in Father Christmas

What was your highlight of 2019?
2019 was wild. It’s hard to single out just one highlight. I sailed from Australia to Africa, became director general of the Government Digital Service and bought a drum kit. Sprint19 was a great event, particularly for what was shared about the future of digital identity.  Michael Gove’s visit to GDS in August was also memorable – and not just because he showed great interest and enthusiasm for our work – but also because I greeted him in front of a pallet of toilet paper at the goods entrance. It really has been a great year. I’m so proud of the team for delivering vital work with a fantastic attitude during a prolonged period of uncertainty. 

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
We announced a new perm-sec level government chief digital information officer (GCDIO) role to oversee the Digital Data and Technology function across government. (We’ve shortened the job title to “The Big G” for ease). The creation of this role is a real affirmation from ministers and the chief executive of the civil service, John Manzoni, that digital transformation is, and will continue to be, a priority. Simon Hart became minister for implementation (thereby having responsibility for GDS) and we have continued support from minister for the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden. Support at that level is invaluable. In terms of ways of working, Brexit has had a huge impact on our work in transformation in that it has accelerated the pace. 

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it? 
Mastering the drums. Brexit. GDS is at the heart of delivering for Brexit. I think we and the DDaT function overall are doing a really good job, and we need to maintain our resilience. Whatever happens in the future, whether it relates to Brexit or not, we need to be in a position where we can quickly react to the biggest challenges, seize opportunities to accelerate transformation and serve users to the very highest standard. 

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth…
I don’t know about favourite… but certainly my earliest Christmas memory is receiving lots and lots of presents from Father Christmas and none from my parents, prompting me to wonder if they loved me at all! 


Sam Trendall

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