Minister reasserts commitment to ‘appoint a chief data officer by 2020’

Written by Sam Trendall on 3 October 2019 in News
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Minister for implementation clarifies that newly created GCDIO is not instead of chief data officer

Credit: Innov8Social/CC BY 2.0

The government remains committed to appointing a chief data officer “by 2020”, according to the minister for implementation Simon Hart.

The creation of a role for someone “to lead on use of data” across Whitehall was announced in the Government Transformation Strategy, which was published in February 2017. Recruiting and appointing a chief data officer was one of a number of measures that the strategy promised that government would deliver by 2020.

With that deadline now less than three months away, an appointment is still to be made – nor is the job currently being advertised.

In a written parliamentary question, shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett asked whether the recently announced role of government chief digital and information officer was intended as a replacement for the unfilled post as data chief.

Hart responded: “The chief digital information officer will not replace the role of chief data officer. The government intends to appoint a chief data officer by 2020 as we committed to in the Government Transformation Strategy.”


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The “challenges” faced by government in effectively using its data was the subject of a recently concluded inquiry from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. In evidence given to that inquiry in July, Cabinet Office permanent secretary and civil service chief executive John Manzoni explained the delay in the recruitment process.

“The reason we have not hired one is that, up until fairly recently, I felt that the conditions for the success of that appointment were not quite there,” he said. “[The person appointed] would likely have come from the outside. One doesn’t want to create a very senior position from the outside to fail. I think that is changing. That is why we gave ourselves the space, from 2017 to 2020, so that the conditions could change. I believe that they are changing.”

One of the first major duties of the chief data officer will be overseeing government’s role in the implementation of the National Data Strategy, which is currently being put together by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The Cabinet Office perm sec – and his DCMS counterpart Sarah Healey – told MPs that it is yet to be decided which of their two departments will house the chief data officer post.

When asked if she would like the role to sit within her department, Healey said: “I think that John and I should just make a sensible decision between us. We should do that reflecting on where we get to in the initial work on the National Data Strategy. Fundamentally, the chief data officer’s job will be to implement the government aspects of that, and we need to make a determination about where they best sit to enable them to succeed in doing that. Obviously, departmental boundaries matter, but this is about working together and collaborating sensibly on implementing cross-government agreed strategies.”

PAC published its report on government data use last week, in which it recommended that “as a matter of urgency, Cabinet Office and DCMS should appoint a chief data officer for government to act as a single point of accountability for government’s use of data”.

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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