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Four more senior leaders announce departure from Government Digital Service

Four of GDS chief Mike Bracken's key lieutenants are following him out of the Whitehall door, but Bracken claims it is just part of a 'natural change'

Four of the senior leaders at the Government Digital Service (GDS) have announced they are following GDS chief Mike Bracken in leaving Whitehall in September 2015.

Head of user research Leisa Reichelt, deputy director Tom Loosemore, director of strategy Russell Davies and design director Ben Terrett all revealed they are leaving after Bracken’s surprise departure announcement on 3 August 2015.

Reichelt is moving back to her native Australia to join the country’s recently formed equivalent of GDS, the Digital Transformation Office, which is headed up by another former GDS director, Paul Shetler.

Loosemore, who initially led the development of the website before GDS was set up, wrote on his personal blog: “I’ve done my turn manning the barricades. I’m keen to learn some new stuff.”

But Loosemore implied he was dissatisfied with the likely direction of digital strategy under the new government.

“Transformed digital services require transformed digital institutions. In the UK, the imperative of such a radical re-invention of the civil service is yet to be recognised. 

“It will require bold, brave, reforming leadership from the centre; leadership with the conviction, commitment and authority required to successfully challenge the shape, the size and the dominant culture of Whitehall. Come that revolution, I’ll be first in line to serve [the UK government] again,” he wrote.

Davies, writing on his personal blog, pointed to Bracken’s departure as a factor in his decision: “It’s been almost four years. My team don't need me anymore. I’m getting old. And Mike’s leaving,” he said.

Bracken told Computer Weekly the departures are part of a natural cycle and the people left at GDS and in Whitehall departments are very capable of continuing the job.

“GDS is going through a natural change. A lot of people have done a full shift. We have dozens of emergent leaders in GDS – many of them women, which pleases me. These and the departmental digital leaders should set us up well for next time around,” he said. 

But the decision by four of Bracken’s key lieutenants will inevitably prompt further speculation about the future of GDS and the government’s digital strategy. But writing on the GDS blog, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, the chief operating officer of GDS who is effectively taking over the organisation with Bracken’s departure, tried to play down the changes.

“We have a growing number of leaders at GDS who are ready to step up and lead the digital transformation,” said Foreshew-Cain.

“As we continue to develop the digital and technology profession in government, there can only be more opportunity for digital and technology specialists. I recently tweeted that digital transformation was neither a sprint nor a marathon, it’s a relay,” he added.

“We know that this is the right time for new leaders to stand up and for some to move on. We also know we have a talented team, ready to take us through the next phase. 

“Alongside making sure we continue to deliver our priorities this year, our focus is on gearing up for the Spending Review and getting a settlement that will enable us to drive the government’s digital agenda forward,” he said.

After four years in Whitehall, Bracken will leave GDS at the end of September 2015 to become chief digital officer at the Co-operative Group.

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