Is GDS suffering from a brain drain?

Ten senior members left in the 2015-16 financial year – talent losses one Opposition politician says are “alarming”

Posted 4 January 2017 at 10:11am by

Ten senior civil servants left their posts at the Government Digital Service in the year April 2015 to April 2016 – departures that the BBC says has “prompted concern as to why the service cannot hang on to its most experienced staff”.

The claim was made by the BBC just before the Christmas break thanks to a Freedom of Information request, with the story noting that the service, set up in 2011, had 21 senior posts in total as of March 2016 – but that before 2015, just one civil servant of senior grade was recorded as having left the service.

Of the 10 departees, the BBC was unable to find how many had moved to other areas of government versus how many had left the civil service entirely.

High profile leavers include GDS former executive director Mike Bracken (September 2015), Janet Hughes, programme director of the Verify identity checking service (August 2016), while its CTO Andy Beale and Paul Maltby, the Service’s director of data, will also be leaving.

Opposition MPs expressed concern at the news, with one, Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on data analytics, telling the press that, “At this critical time it is alarming to learn that significant numbers of key people are leaving the Government Digital Service.

“The sector is key to our competitiveness and future prosperity – we cannot afford to be losing key people at this important time.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron also chimed in, claiming, “It should be deeply worrying to see some of the brightest talent in the civil service leaving public service to go and work in the private sector.

“Ministers need to make sure that staff feel empowered and engaged – and at the moment it’s clear that many civil servants feel neither.”

GDS head Kevin Cunnington responded to the story by noting that GDS has bolstered its headcount with greater numbers year-on-year since 2011.

“I am also making great progress in making sure we have a senior team to take us successfully into a new and exciting phase for GDS,” he added.

He also pointed out that in recent weeks Emily Ackroyd from Number 10 and Arif Harbott from the Ministry of Justice have been added to his management team, and that “we are looking forward to working with Departments to establish a more ambitious GDS than ever before”.