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DCMS to take over Whitehall responsibility for data policy

David Bicknell Published 05 February 2018

Policy shift from Cabinet Office and GDS raises questions over whether a wider shake-up is in play; but insiders suggest no further changes are planned and insist GDS will retain digital government role


The Cabinet Office has indicated that responsibility for data policy and governance will move from itself and the Government Digital Service (GDS) to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

However, Whitehall insiders scotched any suggestion that the move heralded a potential wider shake-up of GDS’s structure and remit. A source also ruled out any further policy ‘raid’ by DCMS as well as a suggestion that DCMS could end up taking over broader responsibility for GDS.

“It would not be accurate to suggest that,” Government Computing was told.“No other changes are planned.”

It is understood that a formal announcement of the shift in responsibility for data policy will follow shortly, with Cabinet Office based data policy and governance staff then moving over to DCMS.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said, "The Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have been looking at how to bring together and further strengthen their work on the use and management of data across government. An announcement will follow in due course."

Government sources insisted that GDS continued to play a key role in the digital transformation of Whitehall.

They also played down the significance of the shift in data policy from the Cabinet Office to DCMS, saying portfolios do change across government from time to time, citing the change from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) taking on housing to become the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

There has been a rumour among seasoned Whitehall-watchers for some time that DCMS was keen on taking over the data policy role. Culture Secretary Matt Hancock – a former Cabinet Office minister responsible for digital, data and GDS – apparently “wanted” data policy and governance, as one description put it.

DCMS appeared to be planting its flag on data policy recently with the launch of a tender for analysis and practical research on data portability. The £250,000 contract is for research to assess the potential gains to consumers and the economy of making data across various sectors and applications more easily portable.

In particular, it says, it wants to gain a better understanding of the potential of data portability as a beneficial tool for consumers in a competitive market. DCMS also wants to develop an example of how data portability that works for consumers and businesses might be practically achieved.

DCMS is also driving the creation of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, including the hunt for a leader for the centre. Hancock himself has had a high profile couple of weeks, travelling to the World Economic Forum in Davos and last week launching his own “Matt App.”




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