The next moves by DCMS on data and digital identity must lay foundations for UK's digital economy

Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), is not everyone’s cup of tea – especially when that cup is Matt Hancock branded. But regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, he’s clearly on a mission to accelerate the UK’s digital economy, and is winning some important battles to do so.

Across Whitehall and in the private sector, the past couple of years have seen growing frustration with the Government Digital Service (GDS) at the slow pace of its plans for data and digital identity – both rightly identified as being fundamental to the digital economy.

That frustration has been particularly felt in Hancock’s DCMS department, where national technology advisor Liam Maxwell and Matthew Gould, director general for digital and media policy, are responsible for “making sure the UK has the world’s best digital economy”.

Rumours of heated debates between Cabinet Office and DCMS officials came to a head in March when GDS lost control of data policy to Hancock’s team, barely a year after GDS put data at the heart of its government transformation strategy.

This week, Hancock announced plans for a new National Data Strategy – not yet in place, but already pushing forward on the data agenda that seemed in limbo over the previous 12 months.

In a press briefing the week before, attended by Computer Weekly, Hancock also dropped the bombshell that DCMS has quietly taken over digital identity policy too. If his team move as quickly again, we can expect to see a new strategy in place in the coming months, one that will be widely welcomed and will hopefully clarify what role GDS’s Gov.uk Verify ID assurance system will play in the UK’s wider digital identity ecosystem.

Hancock’s announcement seemed to take GDS by surprise – its officials initially claiming nothing has changed and bizarrely suggesting GDS was never in charge of digital identity policy. Even allowing for the intricacies of government machinery, that would come as news to most people operating in the identity community.

DCMS’s challenge now should not be underestimated –the steps it takes next on data and digital identity will resonate for years to come, setting the tone for the next stages in developing a world-leading digital economy in the UK post-Brexit.

We now have the most pro-digital government the UK has ever had – in terms of policy, direction and ambition, at least. It’s vital that DCMS turns that intent into practice and lays the foundations that allow the UK to take advantage of the enormous opportunities of the digital revolution.

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