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Former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has called for the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) to join forces.
Maude’s review into the civil service said that keeping the two organisations separate has caused accountability and governance to become fragmented.
The review said that the separation creates “a largely artificial split between functional leadership and delivery”. “The lack of a unified organisational structure degrades the strength of leadership that can be provided by the centre, and absorbs significant amounts of officials’ time in brokering internal coordination rather than delivery,” the review said.
During his time as Cabinet Office minister, Maude was behind the creation of GDS back in 2011, and has cautioned government several times to ensure there is strong central leadership backing the unit.
The government created the CDDO in 2021 as a strategic centre for digital, data and technology (DDaT) across government.
Maude also said that as well as the dilution of leadership, the functional mandate has also been diluted, evidenced by the application of spend controls by Cabinet Office:
“Years on from the original implementation of spend controls, many departments have become more accustomed to using common services. However, with the weakening of spend controls operated by informed assurance teams in the functions, too many have reverted to old habits.”
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According to the review, the government spends £42bn on common goods and services, and despite the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) being set up specifically for government to purchase goods and services through its framework agreements, only £17bn is being spent through CCS frameworks.
“This dilutes the government’s ability to exploit its buying power to make taxpayers’ money go further,” Maude’s review said. “CCS now employs 60 “sales people” to persuade central government entities, including Government Departments, to buy CCS’s services.”
Another example cited in the review is the services developed by GDS, such as Gov.uk Pay and Gov.uk Notify, which were created as a way to have common services that can be deployed cheaply and quickly across departments.
The review said these services are “more enthusiastically taken up by the wider public sector than by the national government entities for whom they were created”.
It added that both GDS and CCS have to spend money and employ people to sell their services to central government, however, if a strong mandate was in place, backed by effectively operated spend controls, it “would automatically deliver substantial savings while delivering more joined up and holistic services to citizens”.
“A diluted mandate makes it harder to retain the high-quality capability that had been carefully built in the functions. Staff with high aptitude in these implementation functions are in high demand across all sectors of the economy,” the review said, adding that if talented staff were frustrated by a lack of authority and empowerment, they would take their talents elsewhere.
Maude highlighted that to improve governance, changes need to be made. He proposed that each major function is led by a single chief officer at permanent secretary level, who will be responsible for running a single central organisation.
As well as calling for GDS and the CDDO to become one single unit, Maude said CCS “and the two Whitehall property entities should be combined within the Office for Budget and Management”.
The review of the civil service comes at the same time as prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a reshuffle of his Cabinet, which included former prime minister David Cameron returning as foreign secretary, while minister for technology Paul Scully lost his position and science minister George Freeman announced he would step down.