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GDS of the future- changes to IT spending controls

Times are changing at the Government Digital Service (GDS). Not only is the organisation moving out of its home in Holborn, its power is also shifting.

Yesterday, GDS announced in a blog post that it is “changing the way things are done” when it comes to spending controls.

GDS’s power to control spend on government IT contracts has arguably been one of the most successful initiatives to date.

The measures, which were first introduced back in 2010, and reinforced by the then Cabinet office minister Francis Maude in 2012, mean any departments wanting to spend more than £100m on IT contracts would need approval from GDS.

Any new digital project also has to meet specific service assessment standards created by GDS before going live with a new service.

While the measures have been successful, they have most certainly not been everyone’s cup of tea. HMRC for example, decided to ignore the assessment standards when it went live with its beta version of personal tax accounts despite failing the GDS assessment.

Ever since  Kevin Cunnington was appointed director general of GDS, several people have speculated that spending controls may be next on the list to change, and even end up being managed outside the organisation.

While the GDS blog post doesn’t give away as much detail as one would like, it certainly confirms that changes to spending controls are next on the agenda.

GDS argues that when the controls were introduced “they acted as a shock to the system” and helped government reduce spend. But it adds that in its current form, “government and its capability today is much different”.

More power to departments?

The details on how spending controls will change is still unclear. But GDS does say it wants to encourage collaboration and engagement across government through “communities of practice”, bringing together people “managing governance and financial decisions on technology from across government into one room to test how the changes we’re making would work for them”.

Collaboration has been a recurring motto at GDS and encouraging this is nothing new, but it’s no secret that civil service chief executive John Manzoni is keen on giving more power to departments, and there have long been hints that GDS will begin to step back from developing digital systems across government and rather “support departments” in doing so themselves.

The government continues to point out that it isn’t going to break up GDS, but there is no denying that GDS in its current form is slowly fading.

Revelations on what the future will hold, will probably have to wait until  the Government Digital Transformation Strategy comes out later this year. The question remains: has GDS run its course?

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