GDS head lays out his four priorities for 2017

For Kevin Cunnington, these are mproving the way government handles data, joining up Whitehall better, more work on making it easy to pay for public services online and extending digital skills and supporting greater diversity, his promised vision for 2017 blog says

Posted 9 December 2016 by Gary Flood

'To Do List' by Beth on FlickrImproving the way government handles data, joining up Whitehall better, more work on making it easy to pay for public services online and extending digital skills and supporting greater diversity.

Quite a full to-do list – but it’s the one Government Digital Service (GDS) leader Kevin Cunnington says he and his team are confident of delivering in the next 12 months.

Cunnington’s made the promises as part of GDS’s fifth year celebrations this week, which flagged up that the anniversary celebrations would conclude with a vision statement of where it should go next week.

Cunnington starts by pointing out that when GDS was started, it had 14 people but is now at 700 – and recruiting at a rate of 45 additional people a month.

What are all those people busy working on? “GDS remains committed to its original principles,” is his answer. “Building and supporting services that put the user first. Making things open. Making things better for the citizen.”

Admitting some of the changes GDS makes in people’s daily lives are “incremental”, Cunnington still believes they “add up to a big shift in the relationship between citizen and state”, with his part of the centre “helping to put government at the service of the citizen”.

Bit what of the specifics? Cunnington says the first priority is around data. “To make things that are truly better for citizens, we know that we need to fix how data is stored and used in government. Current structures prevent departments from giving each other access to information [and] the creation of joined up services across government is inhibited by legacy structures.”

To remedy this, GDS will work to lower these barriers and help to establish “secure, ethical ways for working with data for the benefit of the citizen:. As part of this work, a roadmap of open governmental APIs (application programming interfaces) is being promised.

Next up: joining up Departments and breaking down those silos, with central government needing to get better at cross-Ministry collaboration around the digital transformation agenda. Cunnington says GDS is looking at ways for this important work to happen smoothly and efficiently.

A major GDS priority, he goes on, is to do more with GOV.UK Verify, the government’s secure identification system that made its debut this year: “We want as many people signed up as we can, and we’ll continue to push this actively in the next year.”

Finally, Cunnington says that training will be a big feature of GDS’s work in 2017. “We know that digital transformation has no end point, and it’s just as much about people and practices as it is about technologies and tools.” To help, GDS aims to establish eight regional digital academies, providing training for 3,000 people across government every year.

Diversity is also in the GDS Director General’s plan, he says, noting support for a range of initiatives in the area.

Cunnington concludes his vision statement on a positive note, saying he is “Looking ahead with optimism.

“Although there is no ‘finish line’ for digital transformation, we can set targets. There are fewer than 1,000 working days until 2020, and we want to see as many of these objectives realised as we can.

“It won’t be easy, and we may not see instant results, but we know that what we’re doing is important. A brilliant foundation has been laid, and we’re more than ready to take the next steps as we look towards GDS year 6 and beyond.”

Read Cunnington’s full blog post here.