The government’s digital transformation efforts are to have new political leadership following last week’s general election, with Damian Green taking over as cabinet office minister from Ben Gummer, who lost his Ipswich seat to the opposition.
Green, a long-time political ally of prime minister Theresa May, has been appointed first secretary of state, cabinet office minister and paymaster general following the election, in which the Conservative Party unexpectedly lost its overall majority.
The change sees the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service (GDS), created in 2011 to oversee digital projects across government, receiving its third political lead within the space of two years, after the tenures of Gummer and his predecessor Matthew Hancock.
GDS has also lost a number of senior leaders and experienced staff over the same period.
Gummer’s period in office saw the appointment of Kevin Cunnington as GDS head and the publication of the government’s digital strategy, renamed the Transformation Strategy in light of its broad focus on GDS’ future work, rather than a specialised focus on technology.
Green was previously secretary of state for work and pensions and is now expected to have a key role in supporting the prime minister and particularly in coordinating the negotiations for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
He has supported a number of high-profile digital projects, notably as justice minister in 2013, when he took responsibility for an investment in digital courtrooms.
But industry observers said the reshuffle is a reminder of how low digital projects are on the government’s current list of priorities, with the imminent EU exit negotiations being near the top.
The point was further emphasised by the poor reception of the Conservatives’ manifesto, which Gummer played a key part in drawing up, and which made digital projects one of its key themes.
The government blamed the EU exit process for the long delay to its digital strategy, while the diversion of resources to negotiations, and the resulting staff shortages elsewhere, have reportedly obliged the government to automatically renew major IT contracts rather than renegotiating them or looking for alternatives.
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