Public Services > Central Government

HMRC chief digital officer Mark Dearnley to step down

Neil Merrett Published 01 August 2016

Department's plans for technology and digital initiatives “remain unchanged” after its CIDO announces his decision to return to the private sector from October

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) chief digital and information officer (CIDO) Mark Dearnley is to leave the department next month once his existing contract expires, marking a day of significant overhauls with regard to the management of Whitehall technology.

In a statement issued today, Dearnley announced that his three year contract, which commenced in October 2013, would not be renewed, adding that he intended to return to the private sector.  The decision has been taken on the back of recent discussions with HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson about his role.

Dearnley’s departure comes days after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called on HMRC to ensure continuity with regard to leadership of its major Aspire outsourcing contract that has been extended until 2020.  According to the department, “crucial decisions” over the long-term replacement of the agreement are set to be made in 2018.

Mike Potter, who has served as director of digital transformation for the organisation, will take over the CIDO position on an interim basis.  The department said it expected to launch a fair and open competition process for a full-time replacement very shortly, adding that “plans for technology and digital in HMRC remain unchanged.”

Dearnley said that during his time in the role he had been given a remit to transform the department’s IT, create new digital services and ensure a smooth transition from the £800m valued Aspire deal.

“We have replaced our outdated internal IT, launched digital tax accounts for individuals and businesses, and have successfully concluded negotiations to dismantle the Aspire IT contract, taking more direct control of the design and delivery of our digital technology services at huge cost savings for HMRC,” he said.

“We have also built one of the strongest digital technology teams in the world and I am confident that they will continue to deliver HMRC’s IT transformation at pace.”

HMRC chief executive praised Dearnley for having delivered everything asked of him “at impressive pace” during the three years since he had joined the department from Vodafone.

Late last month, the department insisted that it did have the requisite leadership in place to make its exit from the outsourced Aspire contract a success in responding to a PAC report.

While the report accepted the department was now moving ahead with looking to life beyond the contract, it also warned that a new model of IT provision requires a substantial undertaking “which will require firm and consistent leadership.”

It said, “HMRC now plans to take crucial decisions in 2018 on the long term IT model it will operate from 2020.

“We remain concerned that HMRC may struggle to integrate different services from different providers. As we have seen from elsewhere in government, one of the main factors that determines the success of complex programmes such as this is the quality and stability of their leadership.”

Earlier the same month, HMRC said discussions had been held between Dearnley and its chief executive Jon Thompson over the future of the CIDO role.

The end of Dearnley’s tenure came the same day that GDS executive director Stephen Foreshew-Cain announced he would be “leaving government”.

Kevin Cunnington, director general of business transformation at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), will replace him in the newly created role of GDS director general.

The shakeup in leadership comes after reports about the possibility of the government looking to replace the existing shape and remit of GDS with a more departmental-led approach to technology. 

GDS has maintained that media reports about key figures within Whitehall looking to break up the functions of GDS and water down its efforts to create common tools and standards for use across government were baseless and incorrect.

Related articles:

Kevin Cunnington appointed GDS director general

HMRC tells PAC it has “strong leadership team” in place for Aspire transition

HMRC talks ‘ongoing’ between chief Jon Thompson and Mark Dearnley over CDIO contract

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