Patryk Kosmider -

More questions raised about Verify as digital identity chief quits

Lisa Barrett, director of digital identity at GDS and head of the troubled Verify programme, is leaving government as funding questions remain ahead of Budget

The head of the Verify programme, Lisa Barrett, has quit and will be leaving the Government Digital Service (GDS) next week, Computer Weekly has learned.

Barrett, the director of digital identity at GDS, was in the job for a little over a year, and her departure will inevitably raise further questions over the future of Verify and the wider digital identity strategy.

Funding for Verify is due to end in March after an estimated £175m has been spent on the programme. The intention was that Verify would become self-funding through the private sector identity providers (IDPs) involved with the scheme, but as of April only two of the existing five IDPs – the Post Office and the Dutch firm Digidentity – will remain actively involved.

GDS has been tight-lipped about plans for Verify, leading to speculation that an announcement will be contained in the Budget, which takes place 11 March.

Several Verify-related initiatives were announced last year and have been in limbo pending further updates.

A Digital Identity Unit (DIU) is due to be created, combining resources from GDS’s Verify team and the digital ID team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It is as yet unclear whether the DIU will be owned by GDS or DCMS, or how responsibilities will be shared. Many observers had assumed the unit would be led by Barrett, but her departure clearly rules that out.

A consultation was held in late 2019, inviting the private sector to offer input on the role of government in supporting a digital identity ecosystem across the UK. The results of that exercise were due to be published by the end of last year, but were delayed due to the General Election and no date has yet been set for publication.

A trial involving the use of passport data to check people’s digital identities in the private sector was scheduled to begin in April 2020, but no further details have been published since October 2019.

Over the past 12 months, Verify has been widely criticised across Whitehall and Westminster. In March 2019, the National Audit Office released a highly critical report that said, “It is difficult to conclude that successive decisions to continue with Verify have been sufficiently justified.”

In May, the Public Accounts Committee said Verify was “failing its users”, had not delivered value for money, and its leaders had not accepted “proper accountability” for the troubled programme.

In July, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which oversees major government programmes, gave Verify a “red” rating in its annual report, which means a project is deemed “unachievable” due to issues around project definition, schedule, budget, quality or delivery of benefits.

After Barrett stepped into the newly created role of director of digital identity in March 2019, she was described as a “breath of fresh air” by stakeholders in the digital identity market, and brought new impetus to the troubled programme.

Verify has been running for more than six years, and was intended to become the standard digital identity scheme for accessing online public services and to be extended for use in the private sector.

Nearly six million Verify accounts have been created to date, accessing 22 services including Universal Credit. However, only 42% of people who attempt to create a Verify account are successful, and other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS and the Scottish government, are developing their own alternative digital identity schemes.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Lisa is leaving to take up a new role in the private sector. We would like to thank Lisa for her incredible energy, commitment and dedication to GDS over the last year, and wish her every success for the future. We will announce her replacement in due course."

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