DWP opens recruitment for £200k digital chief

Incumbent Simon McKinnon will step down in March 2023

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The Department for Work and Pensions is recruiting for a new chief digital and information officer, with incumbent Simon McKinnon set to step down in March of next year.

The successful candidate will become one of the civil service’s most senior and high-profile technologists. They will sit at the head of the DWP’s 4,500-strong workforce of digital, data and technology professionals, and will manage an annual IT budget of £1.4bn, as well the support of a technology estate that includes 90,000 desktop computers.

The postholder will also oversee the running of some of government’s most widely used digital services, including the online accounts through which citizens can manage Universal Credit and the State Pension. Other parts of the department’s services roster include digital platforms for a range of other benefits, such as Housing Benefit and Winter Fuel Payments, as well as the application  process for obtaining a National Insurance number.

The new CDIO will inherit a technology infrastructure widely understood to contain a lot of legacy systems. The age and inefficiency of the department’s IT was blamed for disparities in the benefits system that emerged during the initial stages of the coronavirus crisis, and was cited earlier this year as the reason why governemnt could not raise benefit payments more than once a year in response to the escalating cost-of-living crisis.

The responsibility for meeting such challenges will be rewarded with an annual pay packet of between £180,000 and £200,000, plus a potential performance-related bonus of as much as £14,000. Existing civil servants applying for the role are advised that, if successful, they will likely “be appointed to the salary minimum or within 10% of existing salary”.

The job advert says that the digital and IT chief will be responsible for “shaping the digitalisation strategy for DWP… [and] ensuring that the right processes, procedures and technologies are designed, used and integrated to make sure that digital becomes ingrained in the business”.

The appointee will also be tasked with “promoting new ways of working and information technology-enabled innovation, driving and building sustainable digital capability across the department to support civil Service reform and digital strategy priorities, developing a culture which is able to build, attract and retain talent across the function”.

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The chosen applicant will replace Simon McKinnon, who has served as CDIO since late 2018 but will step down in March 2023.

““The plan is to retire,” he said. “But I would caveat that by saying that I may remain active in the sector. In the meantime, the hard work continues here at DWP and it’s business as usual until my successor picks up the baton.”

The departing digital chief’s time in post included the delivery of a strategic shake-up of the department’s technology support functions last year, in which a government-owned company BPDTS Ltd – an arm’s-length body of almost 1,000 employees, whose sole remit was to provide technology services to the DWP – was closed and merged with the department’s internal digital function. The company had been set up in 2016 to take over services that had previously been delivered via long-term outsourcing agreements.

McKinnon also oversaw a major revamp of the online service for accessing the state pension, which the department claims has driven digital uptake to 75% – compared with 25% for the service it replaced. His tenure has also included the significant use of digital technologies in support of the department’s response to Covid-19, which included processing 3.5 million new claims for Universal Credit during the early weeks of the pandemic.

Applications to replace him are open until 11.55pm on 29 August. Candidates should submit and a supporting statement of up to 1,250 words outlining their aptitude for the role. 

The process, which is being run by recruitment firm Russell Reynolds, will then ask shortlisted applicants to take part in a psychometric test and staff engagement exercise. At this point, the would-be digital leaders may also be asked to speak with ministers, potentially including work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey. 

Candidates may also be offered the chance to talk to their prospective boss: and DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield, although any such conversation will be “optional and… not part of the formal assessment process”.

The recruitment procedure will conclude with a panel interview chair by civil service commissioner Martin Spencer.

Once appointed, the CDIO will be based at one or more the DWP’s offices in Birmingham, Blackpool, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Sheffield.

Unsuccessful applicants may also be retained for 12 months on a “reserve list… which [the department] may use to fill future suitable vacancies”.


Sam Trendall

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