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GDS seeks director for identity assurance programme

The new leader will be focused on efforts to deliver a single digital identity system for online public services

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is looking to recruit a director for its sign-on and identity assurance programme.

The search for a leader for the project is part of the government’s efforts around digital identity to reduce costs and fraud. The director will be leading a team of around 200 staff to deliver the unification of five major digital identity systems and numerous authentication services into a single platform.

In addition to reducing fraud and error, as well as cost to the government, the project is expected to improve the user experience in citizen services, with reduced waiting times, improved targeting and future services with a greater degree of personalisation, as well as the exchange of user information between departments.

According to GDS chief executive Tom Read, the goal of the project is to make user interaction with government “as simple and frictionless as possible”. “Having one way to log in to services that need it, and one way to prove who you are, will make it so much easier for people,” the leader tweeted on 31 March.

In May 2020, HM Treasury told GDS that the government’s troubled digital identity system, Gov.uk Verify, would not be taken up by any further online services, and existing users would need to find alternative solutions within 18 months. An 18-month reprieve was given to Verify that month for a further 18 months because of the pandemic-related surge in applications for Universal Credit, which relies on Verify for identity assurance.

At the time, GDS was given a deadline of September 2021 to find an alternative for the departments that had adopted the service. In February, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove wrote to Whitehall departments mandating the use of a new digital identity system that will allow citizens to be tracked across the Gov.uk website.

Read didn’t want to comment on the government’s past failures around producing a digital identity system for online public services and its wider commercial use. “I’m not going to dwell on why things worked or didn’t last time. In 2021, this problem has been solved by many governments round the world and we can borrow patterns,” he noted, adding that the GDS has “strong support” from ministers and large government departments – such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the largest Verify user – to make it work this time.

Read more about digital identity in the UK government

According to the job description, the efforts are expected to last several years and will include integration of activities across government departments, overseeing risks and governance of the programme as well as engagement in government including ministers and permanent secretaries, the digital identity industry, special interest groups, and scrutiny bodies including the National Audit Office and Parliament.

Based out of Bristol and Manchester with a yearly salary of up to £120,000, the job requires candidates to have a background that includes delivery of projects with “significant technical components and complexity”, as well as the ability of “making decisions and setting direction without having the full picture” and “experience to reduce ambiguity”.

“You need a passion for doing the right thing, as well as a history of delivering big complicated things at real pace,” said Read. Applications for the job are open until 19 April 2021.

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