Recruitment begins for government chief digital officer

New position comes instead of GCDIO role that was advertised last autumn but never filled

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Recruitment has begun for a newly created role as government chief digital officer.

The postholder, who will occupy a permanent secretary-level position, will sit at the head of the government’s digital, data, and technology profession. The GCDO will also “oversee GDS and lead the DDaT function”, according to Cabinet Office head Alex Chisholm.

PublicTechnology understands that the new role will be filled instead of the previously planned government chief digital and information officer – the creation of which was announced in September 2019. The application process for that £180,000-a-year post took place last year, but the role was never filled.

“We sought out candidates for a similar role last autumn,” Chisholm said. “Since taking up my post as chief operating officer for the civil service, I have taken the opportunity to review the role and person specification, in order to reflect the government’s high ambitions for transforming digital services and use of data, and the key part this role will play in realising that ambition. We have also clarified the levers and support that the GCDO will be able to draw on to make a full success of it.”

The GCDIO position was conceived as cross-government role that, backed by the clout of being a permanent secretary, would help align technology strategies across departments.

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The brief description of the new role provided by Chisholm appears near identical to the remit of the post advertised in 2019. However, the job advert for the GCDO position has not yet appeared on the Civil Service Jobs website, so it is not clear whether there are any substantive differences in responsibilities, standing or salary.

Chisholm said: “The GCDO will… be responsible for shaping and delivering HM Government’s innovation and transformation strategies to overhaul government’s legacy IT systems, strengthen our cybersecurity, improve capability, and ensure government can better leverage data and emerging technologies to design and deliver citizen-centric services that enhance HMG’s reputation as the world’s most digitally-advanced government.”

After a long period without any updates, PublicTechnology asked the Cabinet Office earlier this month what had happened to the plan to recruit a GCDIO and was told that the process was “still ongoing”. The department would not, however, be drawn on whether this meant candidates that applied last year were still being assessed or if an equivalent role would be re-advertised at some point – as it has now been.

Today’s announcement coincides with the news that Government Digital Service interim director general Alison Pritchard is to leave the organisation in October to take on a post at the Office for National Statistics. 

She will be replaced in the near term by GDS chief operating officer Fiona Deans, although Chisholm said he would provide “detail on the process for recruiting a permanent successor” sometime in the next few weeks.

The GDS director general has, until now, served as the head of government’s DDaT profession. It has never been entirely clear how the role of GCDO or GCDIO would interact with the head of the digital agency but, speaking to PublicTechnology in late February, Pritchard said that she would “be very happy to continue and support a GCDIO”.


Sam Trendall

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