What does the end of the "Francis Maude era" mean for GDS?

Earlier this week, I wrote here that a new Conservative government could mean more changes in government IT than such administrative consistency would suggest. It already seems those changes may be even closer than anticipated.

I speculated in that previous blog post that civil service CEO John Manzoni is likely to put his stamp on digital government now he has been in post for six months and the election is out of the way. In a speech to the FDA yesterday (14 May 2015), the civil service union, Manzoni confirmed as much.

The key quote, reported by Civil Service World, was this: “The good stuff happens when you put great people out in the departments. It doesn’t happen when you put great people in the centre.”

This surely increases the likelihood of the Government Digital Service (GDS) being slimmed down and much of its delivery responsibilities handed back to departments. I’d suggest this was always the eventual plan – GDS looks after strategy, departments look after delivery, and outsourcers are brought in once a service or system is into the support and maintenance phase.

More key quotes from Manzoni:

“Our first step was to intervene and this was the Francis Maude era. There was an intervention in stopping all the bad stuff happening. But what we hadn’t figured out how to do was how to enable the good stuff to happen. And the good stuff happens when you put great people out in the departments. It doesn’t happen when you put great people in the centre…

“The modus operandi of the last five years won’t get us where we want to be… I know we can be more efficient; the question is how do we mobilise the organisation in getting there? And I think that there is a recognition, even at the political level, that collaboration needs to improve.”

Manzoni suggested that Maude’s replacement as Cabinet Office minister, Matt Hancock, was chosen specifically because of his relationship with chancellor George Osborne – Hancock was an aide to Osborne at the Treasury.

“In my conversations with Matt he’s saying we need to draw the centre, the Treasury and Cabinet Office more collectively together, and it’s something I’ve been saying since I arrived,” said Manzoni. “So I’m actually quite encouraged that we’re getting it and I think that is a great sign of the future for how we work in a more collaborative way.”

The next transformative phase of the drive to digital government is “government as a platform” (GaaP), and we know that GDS is working closely with the Treasury – and consultants McKinsey – on the business case for GaaP due to its cross-departmental nature. Is this the model for the future? Could we even see some of the current Cabinet Office responsibilities transferred to the Treasury, with the latter becoming the driver of cross-departmental change?

You could imagine the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) – the Cabinet Office procurement agency – moving to the Treasury. Why wouldn’t you have your purchasing team as part of your finance and accounting team? CCS has attracted criticism, especially around some aspects of technology procurement, and new management inside the Treasury could be an opportunity to tackle those issues.

At a political level, the Tories are making much of their “100-day plan” to introduce some of their more controversial legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech and to get them in place before Labour has a chance to sort itself out and elect a new leader.

Perhaps we’ll find out soon if the 100 days of change extend to the shape of management and delivery in digital government too.

Data Center
Data Management