Civil service COO finds ‘common ground’ with Cummings on need for digital skills

Written by Sam Trendall on 27 October 2020 in News
News

Alex Chisholm flags up tech expertise and better data as key goals

Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

Civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm has said that he and other Whitehall leaders have “common ground” with Dominic Cummings on the need to improve digital skills across government.

Appearing before the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to discuss the work of the Cabinet Office, Chisholm was asked by John Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Carlisle, whether he agreed with the criticisms of the “prime minister’s adviser” – presumably referring to Dominic Cummings (pictured) – regarding government’s lack of technical skills.

Chisholm claimed that the need for expertise – particularly in technology – represented “common ground between the prime minister’s advisers, the civil service leadership and, indeed, right across the civil service”.


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“I think that the civil service, like any other professional organisation, should look to try and improve itself constantly and one of the areas – through our own processes of consultation and reflection and comparison – that we have focused on has been the area of digital skills,” he said. “We’ve been conducting a very open consultation, we have had 14,000 responses and, indeed, a lot of people have said: we would like better access to data, to more advanced systems, and to be able to enhance our skills. And although there is a very successful digital academy, we would like to further improve our skills in that regard.”

Stevenson then asked Chisholm to specify some of his priorities for reform. The Whitehall COO – who also serves as permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office – responded that the improvement of digital skills “would certainly be one of them”.

“Others would be this ambition of trying to extend the civil service successfully across the whole of the UK,” Chisholm said. “At the moment, a high concentration, particularly of the more senior roles, are in London and we want to reduce that Whitehall-centricity, that is an important area of focus.”

He added: “We are also very keen to improve our record in managing large complex programmes, too many of which at the moment run over their budgets and over their assigned timetables.”

Chisholm also claimed that the “repatriation of a lot of powers” that will come after the UK completes the Brexit transition period represents an opportunity to examine the government’s approach to regulation. 

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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