‘Outstanding candidate’ identified in previous recruitment for government digital officer did not accept job

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The previous attempt to recruit a government-wide digital leader identified an “exceptional candidate” – who could not take on the role due to commitments to his current role.

The Cabinet Office recently opened applications for the £190,000-a-year position of government digital director. This is the third time in less than three years that such a position has been recruited, following the publication of advertisements in September 2019 and August 2020.

The first of them – whose title was director of digital and government information – did not result in any appointment.

The relaunched process 11 months later also failed to lead to the recruitment of the advertised post, but it was announced in January 2021 that the government would instead create a new agency based in the Cabinet Office – the Central Digital and Data Office. Former Home Office digital chief Joanna Davinson has been appointed executive director of the new entity, and it has been said that her appointment and the launch of the CDDO came instead of hiring a government digital director .

Alongside him, Paul Willmott – chief digital adviser for toy company Lego – has been named chairman of the new digital and data agency. The role is an unpaid, non-executive, part-time position, requiring approximately half a day of work per week.

With Davinson planning to step down from his role soon, the Cabinet Office is now engaged in a third bid to appoint a government digital director, with applications for the job open until March 18.

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It emerged that during the previous recruitment process, a senior tech executive had in fact been “identified as the outstanding candidate for the job”.

However, the candidate in question was Willmott – who did not take on the role because he “was committed to his current employer”, according to recently published official correspondence.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, recently wrote to Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to provide an update on the progress of various government reform and transformation initiatives.

The letter said that once it was apparent at the end of 2020 that Willmott was unable to hold a full-time leadership position, “Government Chief Operating Officer Alex Chisholm and Ministers recognized the need to adapt structures in order to get the right talent”. .

“As such, rather than appointing a GCDO, the CDDO was launched in April 2021 to lead the DDaT function across government and put in place the conditions necessary to achieve digital transformation at scale,” adds the letter.

The previous job offer for a Whitehall-wide digital leader was, in part, prompted by a September 2020 report by government advisory body the Digital Economy Council. In a major review of digital delivery across government, one of eight recommendations to the Cabinet Office was that it should “hire a permanent head at secretary level” of the digital, data and communication function. technology.

Following the decision to create the CDDO instead, a progress update provided by the board in Barclay’s letter to PACAC reports “early successes” for the digital unit in its first year of operation.

This includes the creation of a “new digital and data council at permanent secretary level to define and drive the implementation of the government’s digitalization strategy”, as well as other “forums which regularly bring together directors of the digital, chief data and chief technology officers across government responsible for guiding the development of common architectures and standards and sharing best practices.”

Once appointed, the Government’s Chief Digital Officer will assume responsibility for the direct leadership of CDDO’s 200 employees, as well as “broader accountability…as a leader and professional leader of the digital, data and data community.” technology from HM Government, which has 20,000 people”. .

Other duties of the position will include “owning the vision and strategy for digital, data and technology” across government, and working closely with Her Majesty’s Treasury to ensure that the most of £8 billion spent annually by departments on technology and IT services offer good value for money. and provides the desired results.

Although he was unable to accept the job, the ‘outstanding candidate’ identified in the last posting will at least help decide who will be appointed this time around, with Wilmott on the final interview panel. . Alongside him are Civil Service Chief Operating Officer Chisholm, along with Justice Department Gina Gill and former Barclays and HMRC digital leader Mark Denney. The panel will be chaired by a Public Service Commissioner: Jane Burgess.