There is another new face taking charge of the government’s digital operations after Chris Philp was appointed Cabinet Office secretary on Friday. Philp replaces Edward Argar, who left the role after just 39 days in the fall-out from Kwasi Kwarteng’s sacking as chancellor.
Philp had been chief secretary to the Treasury, but was reportedly sacked, along with Kwarteng, after the disastrous “mini-Budget” announced by the government last month which has plunged the UK into financial turmoil and left prime minister Liz Truss fighting for her political life.
Philp and Argar have swapped jobs, with the latter taking up the treasury role under new chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
Churn in the Cabinet Office
A former digital minister, Philp has been MP for Croydon South since 2015. He describes himself on Twitter as a “serial entrepreneur”, having run and sold several companies before joining parliament, as well as working for McKinsey.
As Cabinet Office minister, his portfolio encompasses all the government’s internal digital functions. This includes the Central Digital and Data Office, set up as a sub-division of the Cabinet Office last year to oversee Whitehall digital activities. It is chaired by Paul Willmott, chief digital adviser at Lego, and this summer appointed a new chief digital officer, Mike Potter, who has just taken up his role after moving over from Thames Water.
The Cabinet Office minister position has been in a permanent state of flux in recent years, and many believe these constant changes of leadership and direction are hindering the government's digital transformation plans. Though the first minister appointed to the position by the Conservatives, Francis Maude, spent five years in the role, from 2010-2015, the next seven years have seen ten ministers hold the post, with none of them lasting two years.
What are the digital priorities for the Cabinet Office minister?
Philp will also head up Government Digital Service (GDS), which builds the platforms and applications that allow citizens digital access to government services. GDS is currently rolling out the One Login programme, which will give users a single method to access all the government's digital portals, and progressing this system is likely to be a priority for Philp.
In an update posted to the Cabinet Office website earlier this year, Natalie Jones, director of digital identity at GDS, said the system was progressing through trials. "We’ve got an initial version of our browser-based route - with a passport check and knowledge-based verification - in limited beta with our partners, the Disclosure and Barring Service," Jones said.
"We’ve got an identity-checking app for people with driving licences in beta with HM Revenue and Customs for Government Gateway users, and credible plans for passports and Biometric Residence Permits to be added soon. We’re actively working on digital vouching, a face-to-face route, and new knowledge-based verification question sets that leverage government data – all of which will make identity checks more inclusive.