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New Cabinet Office junior minister Jeremy Quin has taken over responsibility for the Government Digital Service (GDS), as well as a number of other organisations.
This follows the departure of previous minister for implementation, Simon Hart, who joined the Cabinet Office four months earlier to replace the previous incumbent, Oliver Dowden (who is now Cabinet Office minister and paymaster general). In December 2019, Hart was promoted to secretary of state for Wales.
There have been seven ministers in charge of digital government since the 2015 election, following on from Francis Maude, who was in place from 2010 to 2015.
As well as GDS, Quin’s remit includes responsibility for the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the Geospatial Commission. In addition, he will support Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden in a vast array of operational areas that include digital and property controls, cyber security and resilience and shared services.
The promotion of the Horsham MP to serve as a minister follows a two-year stint as a government whip, as lord commissioner at HM Treasury. On his website, Quin celebrated the appointment:
“As minister for implementation, the role is at the heart of the government and I am delighted to be supporting the prime minister in driving forward the government’s ambitious agenda and ensuring our machinery of government is optimised to deliver for the country,” he said.
As part of his duties in relation to GDS, Quin will likely be involved in Dominic Cummings’ plans to accelerate the rate of change in government. Earlier this month, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser wrote about his plans to recruit software developers and data scientists into the civil service to achieve that goal.
The constant change of ministers since Maude’s five-year stint at the Cabinet Office and the lack of high-level government leadership for GDS has been widely criticised. Observers say the rapid succession of leaders tasked with oversight of the digital service can negatively impact its reputation as a world-leading govtech organisation.
According to a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, the departure of key senior figures both in the Cabinet Office and the GDS itself over the past few years meant the role of the unit is now unclear and lacking in authority to drive digital change across the public sector.
The lack of leadership in digitisation has seriously affected the GDS’s standing in terms of its relevance, as well as a slowing in the government’s ability to drive the digital agenda across departments, the report noted.
The report advised the ministerial digital champions should be appointed in all Whitehall departments by the end of 2019 and that the GDS should also “revisit its purpose”.