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UK govt digi-chief confirms he is standing down after ... 9 months

Second GDS leader in the past year to go

Stephen Foreshew-Cain, the head of the UK's Government Digital Service, has stepped down from his position after just nine months in the role – amid rumours that GDS is for the chop.

In a blog post Foreshew-Cain confirmed that he had handed in his notice to civil service head John Manzoni.

"I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the most talented people inside government over the last few years and I wanted to take a moment to pause and thank everyone for their hard work, courage and support over that time."

Foreshew-Cain did not give any reason as to his decision to leave, but it has long been thought that Manzoni is not a fan of a centralised government IT body and wants to hand power back to departments.

It followed a report by Computer Weekly that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) head Kevin Cunnington, currently director general for business transformation at DWP, is taking over as the new head of the GDS. That is seen as a play by Manzoni to weaken GDS' central control.

Certainly the sudden changes at GDS raise big question-marks as to what will happen to the body and its cash pile.

While GDS has been accused of over promising and under delivering - not least regarding its claims to have saved the tax payer billions of pounds through digital transformation - there is still a case for major IT reform.

The public sector is still locked into a number of eye-waveringly expensive IT contracts with system integrators that have a track record of IT failures.

An area that GDS has arguably been most successful at is taking on the system integrators and putting in place IT spend controls.

One source said getting rid of GDS altogether would amount to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

He said: "There's been longstanding frustration in a lot of the departments about being lectured by GDS but without them having the knowledge and expertise to help.

"And both Verify and gov.uk are technically weak behind the scenes. But it would be a real shame if the whole aspiration gets lost due to some failures of execution and historic over hyping."

When former GDS head Mike Bracken stepped down last year along with a number of high profile staffers, it was widely thought the body was for the chop. But instead the body was awarded a surprise £450m in the government's Autumn Statement last November.

Although concrete details have still not emerged as to how that money will be spent. A draft GDS digital strategy seen by The Register was described by one source as "a very wordy document that manages to say very little".

In a blog post John Manzoni said: "I want to thank Stephen for his dedication, commitment and resilience, and for his contribution to making government work better for users. I am really proud to have worked with Stephen, and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavours." ®

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