The UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, has made an announcement that the function responsible for data policy, governance, and sharing across government – as well as overseeing digital signatures, is to transfer to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
A Transfer of Responsibility
Currently, government data is in the hands of the Government Digital Service. This includes creating a policy, keeping an eye on all sharing of data and governance, and promoting ethics of data. Announced at the end of March, the responsibility for these functions had been handed over to DCMS on the 1st of April.
As well as this, the department will be assuming responsibility for policy in relation to digital signatures. This currently resides with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. What’s more, DCMS will also be working alongside BEIS in the leadership of the governments relationship with the Open Data Institute, the Alan Turing Institute, as well as the Digital Catapult.
Keeping things quiet
In a quietly announced statement written by Theresa May on the 29th of March, the same day that MP’s left Parliament to start the Easter Recess, it was announced that “the expanded Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport brings together in one place data policy for both government and the wider economy. This will support work, led by DCMS, to ensure the UK is fully realising the benefits of the data economy for all.”
She continued: “GDS will continue its work supporting the ongoing digital transformation of government, building digital capability in the civil service, and championing service-design across government to meet user needs.”
It was also confirmed by the prime minister that “strategic data-policy initiatives” that are currently overseen by BEIS and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will fall under the realm of the Cabinet Office. According to Theresa May, this is intended to “support the work” of the newly founded Geospatial Commission that was launched by the government during the November Budget.
Clearing up Rumours
It was back in March when rumours that GDS were set to wave goodbye to its responsibility for data policy to DCMS first surfaced, and sources claimed that DCMS had been lobbying to take over this area of digital government policy for some time. During that time, the Cabinet Office failed to either confirm or deny the move, especially as it has been viewed as a snub to GDS. However, the Cabinet Office did make a note that the two departments were “looking at how to bring together and further strengthen their work on the use and management of data across government and an announcement will follow in due course”.
The GDS has owned data policy since its inception and has led most of the more important cross-government initiatives in this area. When the Government Transformation Strategy was announced back in February 2017, GDS set to recruit a new chief data officer for government. This role would involve the overview of policy and data activity, but no one has filled the role yet.
According to suggestions by insiders, DCMS has grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of data policy in GDS, including delays in finalising a commercial framework to allow private sector identity providers to develop services that verify users. While GDS has looked after internal government strategy, DCMS owns responsibility for all digital economy policy.