Kevin Cunnington reveals his ‘cunning plan’ for future of GDS

Written by Rebecca Hill on 21 October 2016 in News
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The government is to create an official profession for digital, data and technology within the civil service that will set pay scales based on competency, the Government Digital Service leader has said.

GDS is to move into new offices in Aldgate next year - Photo credit: Derwent London

The move was revealed as part of a press briefing with Kevin Cunnington, which set out his plans for the organisation for the rest of this parliament.

Giving a talk he had presented to 150 senior digital leaders on Wednesday, Cunnington said that there were three areas the GDS’ work would focus on: to support, enable and assure.


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Within the enable strand is a plan to create a profession for digital, data and technology within the civil service and encourage digital staff to have broader skills and competencies.

“We don’t really have this today – we kind of have it a bit in departments, but we’re going to create one national structure where we define the 40 roles,” he said.

He added that the team would “set the pay scales for people at various levels of testable competency”, which he said was a “big shift for the civil service, away from having grade 6 and grade 7, to having tech ops that are competent practitioner and experts.”

A spokesman from the Cabinet Office later added that the banding structure be different to other parts of the civil service, and more aligned to people's skills, which he said would be similar to the Government Communication Service, the professional body for civil servants working in communications. These roles ask for extra competencies during applications and payment is aligned to those skills.

'Sorting out Verify'

Within the assurance part, Cunnington said there were two areas that the GDS’ advisory board had told him to focus on getting right – “sorting out Verify to get it to scale” and tackling the “really hard data issues”.

Plans for Verify will focus on rolling out to other departments and commercial work with banks and gambling-related industries that are interested in using it.

Meanwhile, the data-related work will be part of wider reforms set out in the Digital Economy Bill. Cunnington said as an example, that both DWP and the NHS have large databases of citizen records, and that “we really need to be able to match those”.

Cunnington said that “as sure as eggs is eggs my boss will ask how we’re doing” and indicated that this assessment would focus on the three programmes that the GDS has business plans for: in addition to Verify these are Government as a Platform and the Common Technology Service.

The other strand of the work is support, which covers support for citizens as well as civil servants.

Cunnington said that he wanted to see citizens being able to carry out a wide range of services – from getting a fishing licence to filing for divorce – online by the end of the parliament. Much of this work will be set out in the long-awaited digital transformation strategy, which is due by Christmas this year.

Support for civil servants will include training in digital skills through the GDS digital academies – the national expansion of DWP’s digital academy – that Cunnington wants to train 3,000 people a year in digital, data and tech. There will also be another four bases opened across the UK, in Scotland, Wales, Birmingham and Bristol.

In addition, Cunnington said he wanted GDS to offer more advice to departments and encourage innovation across Whitehall. He noted that the Home Office was doing some good work on biometrics, but that this sort of attitude to digital innovation should be broadened out further.

At the briefing for what Cunnington jokingly referred to as his “cunning plan” he also offered the first glimpse of the much-discussed Venn diagram that aims to show where GDS sits in the wider government context.

It shows three overlapping circles of digital programmes, transformational programmes and manifesto commitments, with Cunnington saying that the centre is the “hard stuff” and is where GDS’ focus will be.

Cunnington also set out plans for increasing the service’s national presence, and aimed to allay fears that the service was going to stop “doing delivery” or be down-sized. 

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