Government CTO Liam Maxwell commits to GDS until 2018

Whitehall chief technology officer Liam Maxwell has committed to the Government Digital Service beyond the election

Government chief technology officer (CTO) Liam Maxwell has committed to the government's digital reform programme beyond the general election after extending his contract to 2018.

Maxwell joined the Government Digital Service (GDS) as CTO in December 2012, reporting to executive director Mike Bracken. He has been part of the government IT team since June 2011, when he joined the Cabinet Office as an IT advisor. He was subsequently made deputy government CIO in April 2012.

Maxwell’s role as CTO involves setting out the technology standards and governance principles across government, and he heads the technology leadership function across Whitehall. 

He has been widely credited as one of the main architects of government IT reform. In the run-up to the 2010 general election, he helped draft Conservative technology policy, having been involved in a technology think tank, the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age, that proposed dismantling the IT systems and business ecosystem established by Labour.

Prior to joining the civil service, Maxwell was a local authority councillor responsible for IT policy at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Last year he was voted the most influential person in UK IT in Computer Weekly’s annual UKtech50 list. He recently recruited former Credit Suisse CIO Magnus Falk as his new deputy CTO.

"I'm really proud to have built a great team and to be part of the excellent team of technology leaders across government,” said Maxwell.

“Together we are going to work for and with departments to deliver the modern and user-focused technology we need, and I'm really happy to sign up for the next stage of this exciting journey to build a digital government based on user needs. We know there’s still a lot to do and I’m looking forward to continuing my work and ensuring that we further embed these reforms.”

GDS chief Mike Bracken praised the contribution that Maxwell has made to overhauling Whitehall IT.

“Liam has done a brilliant job. He has sorted out the governance model and closed 20-odd boards – the bureaucracy [around IT] had become self-perpetuating. Now he has recast the role of technology leaders [in government],” he said.

“What Liam and his team have done, as well as improving governance and delivering services, is generally raising our chops on technology. We have to do more of that.”

Like many GDS staff, Maxwell is employed on a fixed-term employment contract – as many as 60% of the 300-strong GDS team are on contracts that could expire within 12 months of next year’s election.

Bracken said this flexible arrangement allows GDS to ensure it keeps key skills up to date, and he is going through a process of reviewing and extending the contracts of many senior staff. The retention and recruitment of key digital skills was identified as one of the biggest risks for GDS in its latest business plan.

“Skills is now [our biggest challenge] and will be for the next parliament. We don’t get skills from just one place. The challenge is not easy to meet but it is certainly meet-able. But the idea there is a sort of pessimism around that is wrong,” said Bracken.

“Hiring for GDS was the easiest thing in the world. We said, we are going to try to fix government, would you like to come with us? And some of the best people in the world came in and they’re still there now. 

"We’re doing that around government. We’ve done it at senior and leadership level, now we have to get better at emergent skills - we are looking for architects, some specialist development skills, particularly some of the softer stuff around people, process change and business change management.”

Read more on IT for government and public sector