Public Services > Central Government

GDS: by the words

David Bicknell Published 08 December 2016

The Government Digital Service celebrates its fifth birthday today. Its digital influence has spread beyond Whitehall into the wider public sector and even around the world. What has it achieved? And where does it go next?


The Government Digital Service (GDS) has been operating for five years, with today being its official ‘birthday.’

Amid the celebrations – and with an eye on new GDS leader Kevin Cunnington, who may well use the anniversary to discuss the publication of his plans for 2017 and beyond – we asked some some of the ‘great and good’ how they viewed GDS’ achievements.

Kit Collingwood-Richardson, deputy director, Universal Credit, Department for Work and Pensions

“Without GDS, digital government as we know it wouldn't exist.

“In their early inception the small team at GDS showed traditional Whitehall things that simply wouldn't have been possible - radically swifter delivery, the ability to challenge existing ways of working, and above all the potential that the internet had to bring government closer to the citizen experience.

“They started by showing the power of good design and content, transforming government publishing by bringing hundreds of websites onto the single GOV.UK platform.

“As they went on, their support for those in departments building digital teams and transforming services radically accelerated and improved service delivery, firstly in their 25-exemplar transformation programme and then far beyond. Without their showing departments what digital service delivery looked like, they simply wouldn't have known where to start.

“One of their greatest achievements was in describing what good looked like for digital government. They've done (and continue to do) this through the service manual, the service standard, development of job and profession descriptions, design patterns, community meetups and much more. These efforts have standardised and galvanised digital transformation across departments. And in doing it, the digital community has become greater than the sum of its parts.

“Bringing such great talent from digital in other sectors has made government a cool place to work for the first time. They made it possible for us to get the skills we needed to insource our IT and to prepare government for the internet age by building the services that citizens needed, quickly.

“They've made the running of government cheaper - from transforming government publishing with GOV.UK to pushing the transformation of 25 big transactional services, to exercising cross-government spend control.

“The ambition and reach of GDS can now be felt in every aspect of the way government works. On its fifth birthday I hope that it remains a strong, ambitious and challenging centre, attracting the best talent into government and continuing to show us the limits of what is possible.”

Jos Creese, principal analyst, Eduserv Local Government Executive Briefing Programme

“GDS have achieved much over the last five years, especially in stimulating new thinking – selling a compelling vision for digital government that is faster, leaner, technology enabled, user-centred and more transparent.

“Most of this been central government focussed – for example, targeting transactional service which are predominant in Whitehall departments. Looking ahead, GDS needs to take a much broader perspective. For example, local public services are place-based and relational by definition, and a different approach is needed that reflect that in digital design.

“I would like to see GDS address the ‘digital blockers’ of citizen ID, care services and in the ‘smart places’ agenda that will define how digital public services need to look and feel in UK regions by 2020.”

Theo Blackwell, Cabinet member for Finance, Technology & Growth, London Borough of Camden

“GDS's contribution has been focused largely on Whitehall, and it is now time to work with local public services.  The Bracken period showed the direction and what can be done with the right leadership and political commitment.  His government-as-a-platform thinking there certainly spurred Camden's journey.  Looking to the future I do hope central government gives GDS the political headroom to work with leading local and combined authorities to continue our transformation through networks like the LocalDigitalCoalition. Top of the agenda is improving digital leadership and capability of senior public servants whether in the local or national government.”

John Glover, sales & marketing director, Kahootz

"Building on the ground-breaking G-Cloud procurement initiative and the early Cabinet Office Skunkworks we have witnessed how GDS have been able to dramatically change, and challenge, the status quo with regard to public sector IT delivery in the UK and overseas. As an SME we have benefited directly from their disruptive influence in the market. Looking forward we would like to see GDS continue to innovate and drive the Government's Cloud First policy. In particular, we would like them to introduce a centralised e-commerce payment system so that departments, and vendors like us, can fully automate and account for compute as a utility to realise the full potential and cost efficiencies of commodity Cloud services. "

John Jackson, chief executive, National Grid for Learning

"We all owe GDS a debt of gratitude. They have, more than any other UK organisation, helped us to understand that digital isn’t about technology. It’s about what citizens and businesses need and redesigning services for them. I very much doubt that we’d be anywhere near the level of government technology transformation without this simple yet fundamentally disruptive realignment of investment and energy. What’s even more important it’s a legacy that will live with us forever and I, for one, am very grateful to the GDS team for helping me understand there is a different and better way to technology transformation…Well done."

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