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GDS is still Government's "digital core", insists Hancock

Cabinet Office minister voices support for GaaP, but is quiet on future digital plans

Whitehall street sign outside the Cabinet Office

The Government Digital Service (GDS) remains the "digital core of government", according to Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock, after appointing a new leader in the wake of executive director Mike Bracken announcing his departure from Whitehall's coding division.

In a blog post, Hancock sought to reassure those doubtful of the future of the 500-strong teamresponsible for pushing digital transformation across government departments, after Bracken's resignation precipitated a slew of departures from the group, which is rumoured to have its funding slashed in the upcoming Spending Review.

After spending a year as COO at the GDS, Stephen Foreshew-Cain has now become executive director and will take charge of its future projects and direction, alongside CTO Liam Maxwell, Hancock confirmed.

"With Liam and Stephen as well as a stellar team we have the right people in place to deliver the next phase of GDS," he wrote. "There is so much more to do, and I look forward to leading it at Ministerial level, and driving the transformation across government that our citizens expect."

He added: "I'm a huge supporter of GDS's mission.GDS is the digital core of government and it's helping the public sector deliver better digital services for less - essentially making sure that government 'can do' digital."

His announcement comes amid rumours that the GDS could lose its powerhouse status after four years spent driving digital change across departments that have been used to outsourcing IT through expensive legacy contracts.

Hancock also voiced his support for Government-as-a-Platform (GaaP), a model Bracken helped introduce that could replace outsourced IT with common components that could be replicated across departments.

Existing examples of these include a Payments Platform that is currently in alpha testing, which could introduce a PayPal-esque payment method for government services.

With Bracken leaving, rumours emerged that head of the civil service, John Manzoni, did not support GaaP, but Hancock suggested the concept will continue regardless.

"The work that GDS is doing, and the vision of GaaP, is changing the core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes," he wrote."But there's a lot more to do to cement this work and embed modern digital, technology and data throughout government."

However, he did not elaborate on what other work is required.

Does GDS really have high-level backing despite slew of departures?

Bracken's decision to quit preceded other high level resignationsfrom the team as director of design Ben Terrett, deputy director Tom Loosemore, and director of strategy Russell Davies all announced their intentions to leave.

That left new executive director Foreshew-Cain to announce a string of promotions to replace them, with former Verify programme director Chris Ferguson now leading the GDS Digital group, and GaaP programme director Felicity Singleton leading digital policy and departmental engagement.

Foreshew-Cain also insisted the GDS has the backing of both the Cabinet Office and the civil service, despite preparing for budget cuts that are set to dramatically reduce GDS's funding from the 58 million it received last year.

Writing in a separate blog postlast week, Foreshew-Cain said: "We have a talented team, ready to take us through the next phase. I have worked closely withJohn Manzoni and the minister Matthew Hancockto ensure we have full backing as we move through this period.

"When John and I talked about it last week, we talked about how far we've come and how our greatest strength is the people here."

He added that he would fight for enough money to push through digital change with projects such as GaaP.

"Our focus is on gearing up for the Spending Review, and getting a settlement that will enable us to drive the government's digital agenda forward," he wrote, before tweeting this morning: "We've made a great start with Digital by Default, now's the time for Government as a Platform."

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