Public Services > Central Government

Cabinet Office’s Dowden gets GDS responsibility but his immediate focus is Carillion

David Bicknell Published 16 January 2018

New Cabinet Office minister will take over Government Digital Service brief as well as efficiency and controls, cyber security, CCS and shared services


Since Theresa May’s reshuffle, the IT industry has placed significant store on which Cabinet Office minister would get responsibility for digital government and the Government Digital Service (GDS).

The answer, it emerged yesterday, is junior minister Oliver Dowden, who is new to the department and joins it as Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for ‘implementation’.

His responsibility for GDS will be in succession to Caroline Nokes, who has moved to the Home Office.  Ironically, although Nokes’ apparent stewardship of digital government at the Cabinet Office appeared minimal, the seven months of ‘digital training she gained is likely to come in useful when dealing with the demands of Home Office digital systems to cope with immigration.

Dowden, who is MP for Hertsmere, used to be David Cameron's deputy chief of staff and as well as GDS, his other responsibilities include efficiency and controls, cyber and resilience, Single Departmental Plans, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Civil Service HR (including Trade Unions and pensions), Government Property, commercial and Crown Commercial Service, shared services, commercial models and the Government Security group.

But on a day when all three Cabinet Office ministers - David Lidington, Dowden and Chloe Smith - were  attending Lidington’s House of Commons statement on Carillion’s collapse, the signal that Dowden would have responsibility for GDS fell rather flat compared to the wider issues facing the Cabinet Office over the public services fallout from the failed construction and services group’s demise.

Though Dowden’s brief includes GDS, digital government was probably the last thing on his mind as he was grilled last night by BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis. Given the extent of the questions facing the government over its awarding of contracts to Carillion, it may be a while before Dowden has much time to consider the GDS element of his brief.

For her part, Chloe Smith takes over the role of Minister for the Constitution vacated by Chris Skidmore following the reshuffle. Smith’s responsibilities include constitutional policy and democracy, propriety, ethics and transparency, knowledge management, the UK Statistics Authority, Cabinet Office Parliamentary business, Cabinet Office domestic issues, including Cabinet Office HR, finance and security, government communications, fraud, error, debt and grants, and Public Bodies reform.

Over at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which saw Matt Hancock promoted to Culture Secretary in the reshuffle, Margot James takes over as minister for Digital and Creative Industries. techUk has already hailed her digital portfolio as vital for the UK economy, suggesting she will bring great energy and dynamism to the role.

Given the recent announcement of the industrial strategy, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the government’s focus has perhaps shifted from digital government to industrial strategy and, some argue, that has meant a transfer of influence from the Cabinet Office to DCMS. It has even been suggested in some circles that some policy responsibilities -‘data’ is an area often mentioned - could end up gravitating towards DCMS from the Cabinet Office.

However, it is understood there have been no specific discussions of any change in responsibility for policy areas, and Cabinet Office permanent secretary and Civil Service chief executive John Manzoni continues to chair the Data Advisory Board, which is intended to align efforts to make best use of data across government. 

The Cabinet Office also continues to lead work towards the appointment of a chief data officer for government. More information on the role, and then possibly a recruitment timetable, is expected to be announced in due course.



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