New GDS leader says service is here to say

Written by Rebecca Hill on 5 August 2016 in News

Kevin Cunnington, the new head of the Government Digital Service, has hit back at rumours that the surprise change of leadership signals the end for the service.

Writing in an introductory blogpost Cunnington, who this week replaced Stephen Foreshew-Cain as the leader of GDS, said that the service “will not be broken up”.

He was responding to widespread speculation that GDS is on shaky ground, with some critics suggesting it indicated a Whitehall “coup” to split up GDS-run services between the big departments.

“I’ve read many times about the end of GDS, but it has always come back stronger than before,” Cunnington wrote.

“I want to tackle one thing head on: GDS will not be broken up. We remain part of the Cabinet Office with a clear mandate to lead digital, technology and data across government.”

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Cunnington added that he had the full support of John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service.

He said that, by appointing him director general of GDS – which is a change in title from Foreshew-Cain’s title of executive director – Manzoni was “making it clear that this organisation matters, and is here to stay”.

However, commentators have noted that it not yet clear what the new prime minister and her recently appointed ministers think of digital. Reacting to the changes earlier this week, Daniel Thornton, programme director at the Institute for Government, told PublicTechnology that there was a "big question mark over whether the new government leadership is as committed to digital as George Osborne and David Cameron were".

Meanwhile Cunnington's blog also set out his initial plans for his time as leader, which he said would start by getting to know the team and listen to their ideas, plans and concerns. “That’s going to take a few weeks,” he wrote. “After that, I’ll write another post here with some more thoughts.”

He also took the opportunity to praise Foreshew-Cain for leaving the team “in a great position” by securing funding for the rest of this parliament – GDS was awarded £450m in the last spending review.

Earlier this week, the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that it would not be replacing Cunnington’s former role of director general for business transformation at the department.

His responsibilities would be spread between Mayank Prakash in a newly-created role of chief digital information officer and the other directorates in the DWP.

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