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Government digital chief Mike Bracken announces he is leaving

GDS director Mike Bracken is leaving government, and his unexpected departure will inevitably raise questions about the future of GDS

Mike Bracken, the executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the man credited with leading the drive for digital government in recent years, is leaving the job.

Bracken helped to establish GDS after he joined the civil service in 2011, and has led its growth into a 300-plus people team. He will leave on 30 September 2015 and, according to the Cabinet Office, he will “assist in identifying the best structure for the next phase of digital transformation” until then.

In July 2015, Bracken tweeted that he was looking for “ideas for [a] governance model for digital and tech at very top of my organisation”.

In an interview in September 2014, he told Computer Weekly: “I’m staying, I’m not going anywhere, I’m completely bought in to what we’re trying to achieve.” His unexpected departure will no doubt inevitably raise questions about what prompted him to leave GDS.

“It’s been a total privilege to be given such an opportunity and I can only say thank you to all of those who have supported us over the years,” said Bracken in a statement.

“I leave full of optimism for the future, certain in knowing that many of the reforms we have helped lead will make users lives and the machinery of government better. A simpler, clearer, faster service for users is always better for government, and I hope to be a happy user of many more to come over the next Parliament,” he said. 

The Cabinet Office listed the achievements Bracken has delivered in his time at GDS.

Gov.uk provides a single domain for government used by hundreds of departments and agencies, saving the taxpayer more than £60m a year. Making government services digital by default has delivered better services at a much lower cost. Many new digital teams have been established in departments, with the capability to build world-class digital services. We have completely reshaped how we use and buy technology and are beginning to give civil servants better technology,” said the statement.

“This first phase of transformation has been successfully completed. The new generation of digital and tech talent that Mike has helped to bring, not just into GDS, but across government, will lead the next phases. 

Government as a platform will build a set of core platforms that every government service can use. We’re set to implement the next phase to achieve better services at lower cost across government and are already developing several platforms, but there is much more to do,” the statement said. 

In 2014, Bracken also took on the role of government chief data officer, a post which will also have to be filled anew.

Bracken’s departure will also lead to speculation about the future of GDS. 

Civil service chief executive John Manzoni told an event for civil servants soon after the general election that: “The good stuff happens when you put great people out in the departments. It doesn’t happen when you put great people in the centre.” 

Some observers suggest this implies Manzoni favours moving away from the sort of centralised approach to digital government GDS represents.

“Mike has played a central part in developing a functional model at the heart of government, and digital has paved the way for joining up the centre and departments under a single vision. I wish him the best for the next phase of his career,” said Manzoni in the statement announcing Bracken’s departure.

Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Jeremy Heywood added: “I would like to thank Mike personally for the vital catalytic role he has played in helping to transform government digital services. Under his leadership, the UK is now genuinely considered to be a world leader in digital government. 

“Mike has also done a great job building an enduring digital capability in the Civil Service, helping to attract world-class digital talent into government, both in GDS and in departments. Thanks to the outstanding platform Mike has built, I am confident our programme of digital and data transformation will continue apace,” he said.

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