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August 12, 2015

Exec exodus at GDS as Bracken replacement emerges

Departures spurred on by contracts ending and potential Treasury cuts.

By Jimmy Nicholls

The Government Digital Service (GDS) appointed a replacement for its former executive director Mike Bracken on Tuesday, amid a number of high-profile departures in Whitehall.

Stephen Foreshew-Cain will take the helm in the unit less than a year and a half as its chief operations officer, following a 20-year career in IT taking in stints at Capgemini, Accenture and the software company ThoughtWorks.

Writing on the GDS blog, Foreshew-Cain said he "joined GDS to ensure we have a clear plan for digital delivery across government and that we are delivering to it."

However his appointment comes as five executives quit the unit, including Bracken, deputy director Tom Loosemore, director of design Ben Terrett, head of user research Leisa Reichelt and director of strategy Russell Davies.

Such a wave of exits has led some to question whether the "government-as-a-platform" scheme pioneered under Bracken, which centralises a pool of IT resources, will survive into the rest of the current parliament.

Speaking to CBR about the changes Jessica Figueras, research director at Kable Market Intelligence, told CBR that the departures coincide with the expiry of a number of contracts at GDS.

These included the centralisation of 300 government agency websites under the Gov.UK domain, as well as the digitisation of so-called "exemplar" services.

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Figueras also added that the exits may well have coincided with pressure from the Treasury to make some cuts at Cabinet Office, with many departments across Whitehall under pressure to reduce costs from the recently elected Conservative government.

However she added: "I think the significance in terms of what GDS does every day is not as great as has been reported."

Alongside Foreshew-Cain, Liam Maxwell will continue in his role as chief technology officer, a position he has held for more than two and a half years, and several GDS staff will take on more responsibility.

"We have a growing number of leaders at GDS who are ready to step up and lead the digital transformation," Foreshew-Cain said.

"And beyond them, we have helped to recruit a network of digital and technology leaders into government, such as Norman Driskell at Home Office (HO), Mayank Prakash at DWP [Department for Work and Pensions], and Sarah Wilkinson at HO amongst them."

The Cabinet Office has yet to respond to requests for comment from CBR.

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