Jeremy Quin becomes third GDS minister in six months

A new UK Government minister has assumed responsibility for the Government Digital Service.

Jeremy Quin, the MP for Horsham in West Sussex, will become the third Cabinet Office Minister for Implementation within the last six months.

His appointment follows the departure of Simon Hart, who took up the more senior role of Secretary of State for Wales in December and before that Oliver Dowden, who was promoted to Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General.

In a blog post on his website, Quin said: “I am greatly honoured to have been appointed to serve as a Minister (Parliamentary Under Secretary) in the Cabinet Office.

“As “Minister for Implementation” the role is at the heart of the Government and I am delighted to be supporting the Prime Minister in driving forward the Government’s ambitious agenda and ensuring our machinery of Government is optimised to deliver for the country.”

According to the GOV.UK web page, Quin’s responsibilities will include:

  • Supporting MCO on cross-government delivery and implementation
  • Controls (commercial, digital, property)
  • Commercial models
  • Cyber and resilience
  • Civil Service HR and Shared Services
  • Fraud, Error, Debt and Grants
  • Geospatial Commission
  • Government Digital Service
  • Government Security Group
  • Infrastructure and Projects Authority
  • Government Property
  • Government Commercial Function
  • Public bodies and appointments policy

The Government Digital Service recently signalled a new direction for its GOV.UK web domain in November.

Jen Allum – Deputy Director, Head of GOV.UK – outlined how GOV.UK can no longer continue to expect to rely on a “reactive engagement with our users or to think of ourselves simply as ‘a website’”. Instead she wrote, “We have to shift to an offering that is proactive, low-friction, channel-agnostic and more rapidly iterating.”

She said: “In practice, and on a consent-based model, this means informing users of things they need to do, helping them understand the things they may not realise are relevant to them, guiding them through complex life events and getting them to the next stage in their task. This means we need to look beyond discrete, singular transactions to whole-user journeys.

“This has been our aim on GOV.UK for a while. Lots of our work over the past couple of years – such as structuring content around topic areas and building step by step journeys into GOV.UK has pointed in this direction. Now we have a vision and a plan, and we’re developing a model for how to do this.”

Allum talked about the need to take GOV.UK – which combined nearly 2,000 government websites into a single site – to the next stage of digital public services, which will rely on a ‘spectrum of user needs’. She referenced recent work on the government’s Brexit Checker, which allowed users to be served personalised content based on a checklist.

In future, the GOV.UK platform will also allow for content to be made available through channels other than a simple desktop or mobile view. The Government Digital Service is already exploring how it yields better search results from using open standards markup technology added to website content. Such results allow for government step by step processes – for example learning to drive or registering to vote – to be displayed directly as part of a special kind of Google search result, called a OneBox, as illustrated below.

Allum also endorsed a blog post on Twitter by Terence Eden, Head of Open Technology at NHSX – the digital arm of the NHS, titled the ‘Future of the web, isn’t the web’. In the post, Eden says ‘the future is not a browser. It is a User-Agent. It could be your search engine, smart watch, voice assistant, or something yet to be invented.’

He writes: “Not everyone is able to read a screen. Nor do they always want to. Do we need to write custom CSS just in case our data is rendered on a smartwatch? Or a TV? Or an Internet Connected Fridge? No! The User-Agent should be able to grab the data and render it appropriately.”

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s controversial chief adviser, published his own blog on January 2, in which he called for a range of people with diverse cognitive skills to apply for multiple roles in the new administration. A tech enthusiast, Cummings wants people including data scientists, software developers and ‘weirdos and misfits with odd skills’ to apply for various posts within Downing Street in order to shake up the way the government functions.

Could the new vision outlined by senior bods at Government Digital Service chime with Cummings’s brave new world for improving state bureaucracy? And might Jeremy Quin be given more cash to spend on doing it?