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Stephen Foreshew-Cain confirms he is leaving GDS

Head of Government Digital Service is leaving after nine months in the role, to be replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions’ Kevin Cunnington

Government Digital Service (GDS) chief Stephen Foreshew-Cain today told civil service boss John Manzoni that he is leaving his role.

The news comes as the government confirmed that Kevin Cunnington, currently director general for business transformation at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has been appointed as the new head of GDS.

Computer Weekly reported yesterday that Cunnington is expected to make the transition to his new job in the Cabinet Office during the coming weeks, and is not being replaced at the DWP.

Foreshew-Cain, who has been in the job nine months, said in a blog post that he was confident of “leaving a strong team of capable leaders in GDS to see the job through” and felt “honoured” to have been part of the team.

“There has been even more tremendous work going on all the way across government,” he said.  

Foreshew-Cain thanked everyone he has worked with, both inside and outside GDS, including former digital boss Mike Bracken.

“It was clear from the outset that this dedicated, brilliant and passionate group were doing something really special –  not just inside government, not just in the UK, but anywhere in the world,” he said.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of that.” 

New Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer said Cunnington would become director general of GDS and would “work with government departments to continue the transformation of government services so that we can better serve the public, and to continue the global leadership in digital transformation that GDS is rightly famed for here and abroad”.

Sensitivity around decision

Computer Weekly revealed yesterday that sources suggested Cunnington’s appointment would be justified by the Cabinet Office as “strengthening and investing” in GDS, but there was sensitivity around the decision and the future of GDS.

It is understood that the change of leadership has been under discussion for months, and was approved by former Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock before he left.

Last month, Computer Weekly revealed that the DWP and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had been specifically excluded from the GDS business plan last year that led to the award of a £450m budget for GDS in the November 2015 spending review.

Insiders also said senior civil servants at both departments had been lobbying to break up GDS or to move some of its responsibilities back into their departments, and sources suggest the appointment of Cunnington as the new GDS boss is a compromise move to ease relations between departments and GDS. 

Former GDS CTO Liam Maxwell left his role earlier this year to take up a new position as national technology adviser, reporting to the Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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