Prime minister Theresa May has announced that responsibility for data policy and governance in Whitehall is to be taken away from the Government Digital Service (GDS).
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From 1 April 2018, these functions will become part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), along with control of policies for data sharing, data ethics, open data and data governance.
May also said that responsibility for digital signatures will move from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to DCMS, which will also jointly lead with BEIS on the relationship with the Open Data Institute, Digital Catapult and The Alan Turing Institute.
The controversial move was announced quietly in a written statement on 29 March, the day that MPs left Parliament to start the Easter recess.
The change in data responsibility had been rumoured for several weeks, and sources said DCMS has been lobbying for some time to take over this area of digital government policy.
The decision will be seen as a major snub to GDS – the Cabinet Office, where GDS sits, is understood to have resisted the move. GDS owned data policy since its inception and has led most of the major cross-government initiatives in this area.
When the Government Transformation Strategy was announced in February 2017, GDS opened recruitment for a new chief data officer for government to oversee policy and activity in data, but nobody has yet been appointed to the role. Insiders suggested that DCMS had grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of data policy in GDS.
DCMS owns responsibility for all digital economy policy, while GDS has looked after internal digital government strategy.
“The expanded Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport brings together in one place data policy for both government and the wider economy. This will support work, led by DCMS, to ensure the UK is fully realising the benefits of the data economy for all,” said May in the statement.
“GDS will continue its work supporting the ongoing digital transformation of government, building digital capability in the Civil Service and championing service design across government to meet user needs.”
The Cabinet Office has been handed additional responsibility as part of the changes, taking over geospatial data policy initiatives from BEIS and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to support the work of the Geospatial Commission announced in the Budget last November.
DCMS and GDS have also been fighting for control of digital identity policy, with sources saying DCMS is concerned over the slow progress of GDS’s Gov.uk Verify system and delays in finalising a commercial framework to allow private sector identity providers to develop services that accept Verify users.