Shifting responsibilities at the Cabinet Office could see GDS and CDDO working with another new minister, while Jacob Rees-Mogg is set to take on the remit of public sector transformation
Yesterday’s mini reshuffle of Boris Johnson’s cabinet is likely to see the digital government brief handed to yet another new minister.
Following the previous reshuffle in September 2021, it was understood that the Cabinet Office’s top minister – Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – would be directly overseeing issues relating to government’s use of digital platforms and data. This brief, which includes oversight of the work of the Government Digital Service and the Central Digital and Data Office, had previously been within the purview of a junior minister.
Following Barclay’s appointment to the non-ministerial post as Downing Street chief of staff, he has retained the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster title – but his additional role as minister for the Cabinet Office has been given to Michael Ellis, the paymaster general.
Although the digital government brief is yet to be assigned to a specific minister – and seems unlikely to among the prime minister’s top priorities currently – it is understood that Ellis will ultimately take on most of the duties that previously formed Barclay’s ministerial portfolio.
If GDS and CDDO are to be assigned a new minister with whom to work, the postholder will be the 12th person to take on the role in less than seven years.
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GDS was founded under the watch of then Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude; following the conclusion of his five-year tenure at the central department in 2015, the work of the digital agency was overseen by his successors Matt Hancock, Ben Gummer and Damian Green.
Following the 2017 general election, the latter was quick to delegate responsibility for digital government to a junior minister, Caroline Nokes. She has since been followed by Oliver Dowden, Simon Hart, Jeremy Quin, Lord Theodore Agnew, Julia Lopez and, finally, Barclay.
Agnew recently quit his position as minister for efficiency and transformation; his resignation came in response to a level of fraud in the government’s pandemic support schemes that he said was “not acceptable”.
The stated responsibilities of his ministerial posting, which spanned the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, included “supporting the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the chief secretary to the Treasury to deliver cross-government efficiency and public sector transformation improvements… [and] supporting with oversight of the corporate functions and operation of the spending controls, including in relation to Covid-19”.
The spending controls applied to departmental investments in digital services and IT – which were formerly managed by GDS and are now overseen by CDDO – have long been considered an important tool in promoting the use of new technologies and agile methods, and ensuring resources are not committed to outdated systems or practices.
Although the two roles do not overlap precisely, it is understood that much of Agnew’s portfolio will now be overseen by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was yesterday appointed to the post of minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency – a Cabinet-level position.