Management > CIO

Cunnington signals closer GDS relationship with local government

David Bicknell Published 20 April 2017

GDS director general believes engagement with local councils through recent roadshows has created mutual relationships both GDS and councils can build on


Government Digital Service (GDS) director general Kevin Cunnington has signalled a closer working relationship with local government building on conversations generated by GDS’ recent roadshows around the country.

One of the frequent criticisms by local government is that government initiatives around digital government are too Whitehall-centric.

Theo Blackwell, Camden Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, Technology & Growth commenting on the government’s digital strategy called for local government, cities and combined authorities to bring together their own digital strategy. He’d also like to see GDS fund “time and effort for pilots” for its GOV.UK Verify identity assurance scheme.

Cunnington has responded to calls for a closer working partnership, pointing to the role of the roadshows in building new relationships with key local digital and IT leaders and highlighting the role of GDS’ Chris Ferguson in building national and international bridges.

In an interview with Government Computing , Cunnington said, “The roadshows have started us on this trend to meet with local authorities, which we haven’t done historically. We’ve created a new post within GDS occupied by Chris Ferguson all around international and national development. International is all about what our profile is in the international marketplace. The GDS brand is famous around the world and we’re keen to preserve that. And we’re keen to preserve our standing as the number One e-Government in the world, according to the UN.

“Chris’s role is to try and develop those things but also to try and build on what other governments are doing and leveraging them back here. A bigger question is Chris’s task with our national footprint in the UK, because we recognise that we are entirely London based. We wouldn’t necessarily know what’s going on in Bristol or Glasgow. So what effort do we put into getting a national footprint? That means both from the perspective of the local digital academies - and everyone is keen to have an academy - but also what local technical expertise GDS has in Leeds or Sheffield to make it part of the fabric of the Civil Service.”

Cunnington said GDS works with specialists such as user researchers, designers and tech architects across the UK.  He explained, “This gives us a good understanding of the individual needs of programs and projects they're working on.”

Discussing how GDS expects to be working more closely with local authorities, Cunnington said, “Chris Ferguson's new role will enable us to take a more holistic view across the regions and local government as a whole.”

When the GDS roadshow visited Leeds, Cunnington was able to catch up with Leeds City Council CIO Dylan Roberts as part of the event.

“Dylan came along to our Leeds roadshow but then I spent an hour with him in the afternoon. So we are doing that now and engaging with local councils. In Manchester people turned up from Manchester City Council and it was a similar story with Bristol City Council in Bristol. So we are now engaging with people.”

Cunnington also reacted positively to a Government Computing suggestion that he should meet regularly with a local government ‘brains trust’ that could include specialists such as London Grid for Learning chief executive, John Jackson; Leeds City Council’s Roberts; Geoff Connell, CIO at Norfolk Council Council; Camden Council’s Theo Blackwell; former Hampshire County Council CIO and now Eduserv principal analyst Jos Creese; and David Wilde, Essex County Council’s director for digital.

Essex has previously said it is keen to work with GDS to develop GOV.UK Verify as a standard service offer for public services. Discussing GOV.UK Verify ahead of its recent Smart Essex summit, Wilde and his colleague, Stephen Canning, Essex’s Cabinet Member for Digital Innovation, IT and Customer Services expressed support for the identity assurance scheme, with Canning saying, “I don’t think there is a service we have where it (Verify) wouldn’t be useful.”

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