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Government appoints digital leadership roles and sets up new digital office

The government is creating a new Central Digital and Data Office, which will be led by Home Office tech boss Joanna Davinson

The government has appointed three new significant digital, data and technology leaders and will launch a new Central Digital and Data Office (CDOO) in early February 2021.

The CDDO will be established by the Cabinet Office, and serve as a strategic centre for digital, data and technology (DDaT) across government.

The office will be led by current Home Office chief digital, data and technology officer (CDTO) Joanna Davinson, who in her new role will be in charge of the government’s 18,000 DDaT professionals and lead the DDaT function for government.

Davinson took on the role as Home Office CDTO in 2017, leaving her role at IBM, following former tech boss Sarah Wilkinson’s departure to NHS Digital.

Davinson, who will be reporting directly to civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm, said it is an “honour and a privilege to be chosen to lead the government DDaT profession and community, and to have the opportunity to shape government digital, data and technology on a national scale”.

“I am looking forward to working with department chief digital information officers and their teams and with other colleagues across government, to develop and deliver the strategies and plans that enable the UK to lead the way in serving its citizens by being one of the most digitally advanced governments in the world,” she said.

In August 2020, the government set up a panel to recruit a chief digital officer - a job apparently now superseded by Davinson's new role. Strangely, Davinson was a member of the selection panel appointed to oversee the recruitment process.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson added that Davinson will be appointing her own team, which will include a chief data officer. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is now no longer recruiting for a government chief data officer, despite digital secretary Oliver Dowden confirming as recently as September last year that DCMS still intended to recruit someone for that position.

The CDDO will be chaired by Paul Willmott, in an unpaid, non-executive role. Willmott is also chief digital adviser at the Lego Brand Group and former founder of McKinsey Digital. 

Read more about government and IT leadership

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  • John Manzoni explains why the new government digital leader will carry the power and authority of a Whitehall permanent secretary.

Willmott said that the creation of the CDOO is an “exciting and important moment for digital government in the UK”. 

“There is a clear mission to establish the UK as global leader in digital government and to provide citizens with better services,” he said. “The ambition and challenges are substantial but, from what I’ve seen, we have both the capabilities and determination to succeed. I’m delighted to be able to help.” 

The government has also appointed a new Government Digital Service (GDS) chief executive, which it began recruiting for in October 2020 following the imminent departure of interim director general Alison Pritchard.

The government has been without a permanent boss of GDS since the departure of former director general Kevin Cunnington in July 2019, but has now appointed Ministry of Justice chief digital and information officer Tom Read as the new GDS CEO. Read will also report to Alex Chisholm.

Project leader

Read has been the MoJ’s digital chief since 2016, where he has led several large technology projects aimed at transforming the UK justice system, including digital prison services. He is also a former GDS employee, and during his time at MoJ, one of his key focuses has been to break down silos and barriers between government departments to allow for collaboration.

Read said that having the opportunity to lead GDS “into its next era is incredibly exciting and one that I cannot wait to get started on”.

“Never has it been more important to build, deliver and support services that are fundamentally based on the needs of our users,” he said. “I look forward to delivering a refreshed focus on the development and delivery of digital products and services underpinned by strong digital standards.”

In his role as CEO of GDS, he will be responsible for creating and implementing a vision and strategy for GDS’s work, oversee its budget and manage strategic risks. 

Announcing the appointments, Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary Julia Lopez said she was “delighted to announce these three impressive appointments, whose mix of skills and experience will enhance our DDaT leadership capability and make real our ambition to deliver the public with better, more personalised public services that will enhance our reputation as the world’s most digitally advanced government.”

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