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GDS on the hunt for new chief operating officer

Cabinet Office offers up to £130,000 for chief operating officer role, to act as Kevin Cunnington’s deputy and be responsible for the internal transformation and day-to-day running of Government Digital Service

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is looking to appoint a  new chief operating officer (COO) to take charge of the organisation’s daily operations.

The Cabinet Office is offering a £130,000 salary for the COO, who will act as director general Kevin Cunnington’s deputy, ensuring GDS “meets its ambitious objectives”.

The new hire will take over from current COO Alison Pritchard, who joined GDS from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in August 2017.

According to the candidate information pack, the role involves helping to set standards “and maintain a shared vision to deliver transformation”.

“You’ll share best practice and drive collective efficiencies wherever possible; support and guide our cross-government programmes to build digital, data and capability and make government a destination of choice for digital, data and technology professionals,” it said.

“The COO will lead on planning, directing and coordinating the operation of GDS on behalf of the director general to ensure and improve organisational performance, productivity and efficiency through the provision of effective methods and strategies.”

GDS has gone through some big transformational changes lately. In March 2018, the organisation lost responsibility for data policy and governance, when the prime minister announced that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would take over these functions. 

In March 2017, a National Audit Office report said GDS was trying to cover “too broad a remit with unclear accountabilities” and needed to be clearer about its role. 

The government transformation strategy was also published in 2017, aiming to “take digital transformation further than ever before” by prioritising an overhaul of the civil service, developing skills and culture, using shared platforms, changing back-office processes and systems, and increasing collaboration. However, there has been little evidence of progress so far.  

The new COO will be “required to exercise their judgement over a complex cross-government transformation strategy in a highly politicised and demanding stakeholder environment”, the job description said, adding that this includes working to “transform and evolve GDS internally to better respond to the strategy”.

The COO will also act as a role model and “relentless champion” of government as an inclusive place and, together with the management team and the “HR business partner team”, design and define the GDS People Strategy, which aims to focus on increasing engagement and effectiveness.

Last December, the annual staff survey at GDS revealed that employees were concerned about leadership and change management – and one in six workers said they had experienced discrimination, bullying or harassment. 

Current COO Alison Pritchard is staying in GDS to lead its work in supporting Brexit, a role she started in September last year as part of her COO role, but which will now become a full-time job.

"GDS is recruiting for a new chief operating officer as Alison Pritchard has changed roles to lead GDS's work on EU exit,” said a spokesperson for GDS.

"GDS is already engaged with departments across government, on EU exit related digital programmes, drawing from existing GDS resource. Alison will lead on the coordination of this work to ensure GDS can continue to prepare for our departure from the EU, working in close association with other functions at the centre of government."

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