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Another senior leader leaving GDS as data director Paul Maltby to go

Three directors of Government Digital Service have departed since appointment of new director general Kevin Cunnington in August

Paul Maltby, the director of data at the Government Digital Service (GDS), is set to become the third senior leader to leave the organisation in recent months, Computer Weekly has learned.

As data czar, Maltby was responsible for one of the most important parts of the government’s digital plans, and was a major player in pushing through legislation for data sharing as part of the Digital Economy Bill.

On 11 October 2016, members of Parliament (MPs) will hear evidence in committee hearings about the data aspects of the bill.

Maltby was appointed as data director in September 2015, having previously been Cabinet Office director of open data. As well as his work on data sharing laws, Maltby led a programme to create canonical registers of government data to avoid duplication and improve the data infrastructure across Whitehall.

The Cabinet Office said that Maltby’s GDS contract is coming to an end – he is employed by the Home Office and officially is on loan to GDS until December – and added that GDS will be recruiting a data chief “in due course”. It’s not yet clear what Maltby’s next role will be.

“I’m proud to have led the UK government’s world-leading activity on open data. Data is the future of public service reform, and as I leave the great team here in GDS it is satisfying to see how the data agenda is increasingly driving reform in Whitehall and leading to a beneficial impact for citizens,” said Maltby in a statement.

Maltby follows Janet Hughes out of GDS, who was also a member of the senior leadership team as director of the Verify identity assurance programme and head of strategy, policy and departmental engagement at GDS.

Hughes quit in August only two weeks after the departure of Stephen Foreshew-Cain, the executive director of GDS, who left after Kevin Cunnington was brought in over his head to be the new GDS chief by Cabinet Office permanent secretary John Manzoni.

Hughes was understood to be close to Foreshew-Cain and insiders say her decision was prompted at least in part by his treatment.

Cunnington was previously director general of business transformation at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), whose permanent secretary Robert Devereux has lobbied for GDS’s budgets to be cut and much of its work devolved back to Whitehall departments.

Cunnington said in a statement: “Over his past three years in the Cabinet Office, Paul has put data at the centre of government thinking and made great strides on open data and building a community of data scientists in government.”

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Maltby’s statement added: “Under Kevin’s leadership in GDS, we have begun the hard work to go deeper to fix government’s data infrastructure and improve our data science capability.”

GDS was awarded a £450m budget for the current parliamentary cycle in the spending review announced by then chancellor George Osborne in November 2015, but the strategy for spending that cash was never published, despite promises that it would be released.

In July 2016, Computer Weekly 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.

Cunnington is currently working on his strategy for GDS, and has brought in three of his trusted lieutenants from DWP to help him write the new plan – a move that has led to unease in GDS, according to our sources.

GDS is not the only part of Whitehall to have lost senior digital leaders lately. Mark Dearnley, Arif Harbott and Norm Driskell also left HM Revenue & Customs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Home Office, respectively, in recent months.

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