‘Mission accomplished’ – departing chief Cunnington reflects on GDS achievements

Written by Sam Trendall on 28 June 2019 in News

Increasing capability and diversity are among the highlights picked out from three years in the hot seat

Credit: GDS

Departing Government Digital Service head Kevin Cunnington has expressed his pride in the achievements of the organisation during his three years as director general.

In a blog post marking his imminent departure, Cunnington said that “for me personally, it’s mission accomplished”.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved during my time here,” he added. “We’ve helped government to realise more than £1bn of benefits through scrutinising technology spending. Our common components are now used in more than 660 services across the public sector.”

The GDS chief went on to pick out five areas that are particular sources of satisfaction.

The first of these is growing Whitehall’s digital, data and technology profession to become “one of the most digitally skilled populations of civil servants in the world”. Cunnington singled out the work of the GDS Academy, which Cunnington founded as the DWP Digital Academy during his time at the Department for Work and Pensions. So far, the academy has provided training to more than 10,000 civil servants, he said.

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The second area highlighted was GDS’s efforts to become a more “diverse and inclusive workplace”. This includes cultivating a gender-balanced management team, and hosting events such as Breaking Down Barriers and Let’s Talk About Race – both of which were aimed at supporting increased ethnic-minority representation in DDaT roles.

Cunnington also expressed his pride in the range of other events GDS has hosted to help inform people of its work. This has included expanding its flagship Sprint event which this year has consisted of multiple gatherings around the UK.

The penultimate area cited by the director general was the publication last month of the Government Technology Innovation Strategy.

“The development of the strategy was a great example of private and public sector collaboration,” he said. “We held a series of roundtable discussions with academics, tech leaders and practitioners. The strategy captures the common problems when using, procuring and selling emerging technology across government and set out solutions. By identifying the blockers to innovation, we can now go about overcoming them.”

The final achievement cited by Cunnington was growing the international reputation and standing of GDS. Although the UK last year relinquished top spot in the UN’s worldwide e-government league table, the departing leader noted that “we continue to be in the top five”, adding that the UK has also placed top of the global Open Data Barometer rankings.

The GDS chief said that the agency has, in recent years, also signed five memoranda of understanding with overseas counterparts – including an agreement with Singapore GovTech that was signed earlier this month.

“GDS has always had ambitious aims,” Cunnington said. “Achieving those aims has been challenging, exciting and rewarding. I’m grateful for this. It has prepared me well for this next chapter.”

In his new role, the digital head will take charge of the newly formed International Government Service. Its remit is not yet entirely clear, but the Cabinet Office-based entity “will work with governments around the world to share [the] experiences and expertise” of the UK civil service, according to Cunnington.

“This includes our digital expertise, so I’ll continue to work closely with GDS to tell its story and show how we’ve achieved success,” he added.

The departing DG, who will be replaced on an interim basis by GDS’s director of transformation and EU exit Alison Pritchard, concluded his blog by expressing gratitude to the team he will leave behind.

“I hope that GDS continues to show what good looks like, do the hardest things, reflect the society we serve and continue to help government transform,” he said. “All that remains is to thank the team for the work they’ve achieved while I’ve been in post, for their motivation, their unwavering commitment to making things better for everyone and for the support they’ve given me.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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