Digital has taken root at DLUHC, says former chief

Paul Maltby says department’s approach has helped empower councils

Credit: Eko Pramono/Pixabay

The recently departed digital leader of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has said that the team he created has now become an inherent part of the organisation’s make-up.

Paul Maltby spent almost six years as chief digital officer at DLUHC and its predecessors, before departing in November 2022 to take a post at London-based tech firm Faculty AI. He said that, during his time at the department, the role of digital had matured – to the point that he felt confident he was leaving it in safe hands.

“I built the digital team in DLUHC from scratch, but I’d reached the point of thinking: ‘It’s good; we’re seen as ‘normal’ now in the department. They’re recruiting great people and they don’t need me in the same way as when we started’,” he said, in an interview with PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World.

About 18 months into Maltby’s stint at Whitehall’s local-government department, the Local Digital Fund was launched in summer 2018. Since then, it has awarded about £16m to support technology and data projects led by local authorities.

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“When I moved to DLUHC, there was a sense the pace of change we were seeing in central government wasn’t being replicated in and around local government – as indeed it wasn’t in many other spheres of government at that time,” he said. “The question was: how can we harness that latent possibility within the sector? How do we track the people making those changes, putting their heads above the parapet and doing things differently, and bring more attention to that? And how do we reduce the burden on each council for making that change?”

Maltby added that the delivery of the fund – and the accompany Local Digital Declaration, which sets out a collective vision “for the future of local public services” – has helped empower councils.

“As well as the opportunity to improve the basic efficiency of services in local government, one of the most exciting things about that work was the sense we were changing the traditional way of doing things,” he said. “We weren’t making local government a delivery agency of central government. This was designed to shift the generation of capability and try to get the practice by default in a different space.”

During almost two decade in government, the recently departed DLUHC digital chief spent time working for the Government Digital Service and the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. He said that, even in his new private-sector post, he remained a committed “civil service reformer”.

“I had to decide if I was better doing that from inside or outside government,” he told Civil Service World. “The field is changing; the next generation of digital and data change is out there, and I want to be part of it. Where’s the best place to do that? Probably outside – at least for now.”

The full interview with Maltby – including insights into his work with various prime ministers, and why government still has a long way to go to data – can be read here.

Sam Trendall

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