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GDS loses another senior exec with departure of Verify’s Janet Hughes

Following the departure of GDS boss Stephen Foreshew-Cain earlier this month, Verify director Janet Hughes has announced she’s leaving too

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is losing another director, with the depature of Janet Hughes, who has been heading up the Verify identity assurance platform, this Friday (19 August).

The news comes as the head of GDS, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, confirmed he was leaving GDS earlier this month. He was replaced by former Department of Work and Pensions director general for business transformation Kevin Cunnington.

Hughes has led the work on the government’s identity assurance service Verify, which went live in May this year.

In a blog post announcing her departure, Hughes said that as Verify enters a new phase, having passed its live service standard assessment, “it’s also time for the team to change and for me to move on to new challenges”.

She added: “I’m very proud of everything we’ve achieved so far, and grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the first few years of Verify’s development.”

Jess McEvoy, who is currently the head of policy and engagement at GDS, will step into the role as programme director for Verify.

Only the beginning

In an interview with Computer Weekly earlier this year, Hughes said the go-live of the service was only the beginning, and that she had great ambition for its future.

The goal is for Verify to become the standard way for citizens to prove their identity, not just in central government, but for other services as well.

“The vision is that people think about having an identity account in the same way they have a bank account, and being able to use it to access all sorts of services, such as opening a bank account, interacting with their local authority, checking their health records, booking a flight and getting a new mobile phone contract,” Hughes told Computer Weekly in April this year.

GDS break-up?

The departure of yet another high-profile GDS figure, who has become known for her “be bold” campaign, encouraging people to try new ideas and not be scared to fail, is likely to further fuel rumours of a break-up of GDS.

The government continues to dismiss any suggestion that GDS will be broken up. Cunnington said when he was appointed that he wants to “strengthen and accelerate the pace of change” at GDS.

“I’ve read many times about the end of GDS, but it has always come back stronger than before,” he said. “I want to tackle one thing head-on: GDS will not be broken up.

“We remain part of the Cabinet Office, with a clear mandate to lead digital, technology and data across government.”

Sources suggested to Computer Weekly last month that bringing in Cunnington is a compromise to ease tension between government departments and GDS.

Return to decentralisation

Last month, Computer Weekly also learned about pressure to break up GDS and return to the sort of model that existed before the 2010 general election, where a much smaller central policy team was responsible for strategy and standards, with all delivery returned to Whitehall departments. 

The rumours are similar to those last year, when the then GDS boss Mike Bracken announced he was leaving. He took with him several senior figures, which led to questions about the future of the organisation. 

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