In a major review of Whitehall structures and processes, the minister that oversaw the creation of the Government Digital Service calls for it to be re-merged with its sister unit
A major review into the efficacy of government’s structures and processes has called for the Government Digital Service and Central Digital and Data Office to be reunited into a single organisation.
CDDO – which has responsibility for digital, data and technology strategy across government, as well as standards, controls, and skills – was created in early 2021 after, effectively, being spun out of GDS, which now focuses purely on the technical development of services and platforms.
The creation of GDS within the Cabinet Office in 2011, as well as the introduction of centrally administered spend controls, was overseen by then Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude – a long-time advocate of government reform.
Maude, who now sits in the House of Lords, has just released his Independent Review of Governance and Accountability in the Civil Service, 16 months after he was first tasked with examining government operations with the objective of identifying ways of improving the design and delivery of policy and programmes.
Published on GOV.UK, the 140-page document outlines a range of reform recommendations, including proposals to significantly reshape the centre of government.
As part of such a revamp, Maude’s review called for a permanent secretary-level leader for each of government’s functions – including DDaT. In the case of this senior digital chief, the chosen person should head up all “functions currently split between multiple organisational units at the centre – such as… the Government Digital Service and Central Digital and Data Office – [which] should be unified as a single team”.
The review added that the operation of GDS and CDDO as separate entities is an illustrative example of various instances in recent years in which “governance and accountability has become fragmented”.
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“Where previously each function had a clear and unambiguous leader at the centre who was responsible for driving effectiveness with one voice across Whitehall, the centre is now frequently providing multiple (and mixed) signals,” Maude wrote. “In digital, for example, the split between the Government Digital Service and Central Digital and Data Office creates a largely artificial split between functional leadership and delivery. The lack of a unified organisational structure degrades the strength of leadership that can be provided by the centre, and absorbs significant amounts of officials’ time in brokering internal coordination rather than delivery.”
He added: “Alongside the dilution of leadership, the functional mandate has been diluted. This is most apparent in the application of real time spend controls operated by the Cabinet Office. Thirteen years on from the original implementation of spend controls, many departments have become more accustomed to using common services. However, with the weakening of spend controls operated by informed assurance teams in the functions, too many have reverted to old habits.”
PublicTechnology contacted the Cabinet Office to ask whether and how Maude’s recommendation for the reunification of GDS and CDDO might be considered or taken forward. The department did not respond directly to this question but, rather, pointed towards the parliamentary statement made by Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin – in one of his last major contributions before reshuffled out of government and replaced by John Glen – in response to the publication of Maude’s review.
Although he did not comment directly on the vast majority of the review’s specific recommendation, the minister did suggest that significant overhauls of departmental structures are unlikely in the near future.
“Lord Maude’s proposals aim to improve efficiency, clarify accountabilities, and change structures in the civil service. There are some issues highlighted in the review on which the government is proud of action already underway.” Quin said. “However, a number of long-term recommendations, if implemented now, would serve to detract from the focus on the prime minister’s five critical priorities. For example, we will not take forward the recommendation for a significant restructure of the machinery of central government or alter the role of cabinet secretary. This is a welcome contribution and we will now consider the recommendations carefully and respond in due course.”
As well as reuniting GDS and CDDO, Maude’s vision for a revamped centre of government included the creation of a new Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet and an Office of Budget and Management, as well as streamlining the operations of HM Treasury.