UK government announces new digital chief – hours after old one resigns

By on 02/08/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Kevin Cunnington was formerly director-general of business transformation at the Department for Work and Pensions

Kevin Cunnington has been announced as the new head of the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) – hours after his predecessor Stephen Foreshew-Cain tendered his resignation.

Cunnington’s appointment was announced by ministers at 1.40pm yesterday – around the same time that Foreshew-Cain published an article on Medium titled ‘Leaving government‘.

Foreshew-Cain wrote that he told civil service chief executive John Manzoni of his plan to leave the civil service “earlier today”, but made no mention of his reasons for doing so and focused instead on paying tribute to the GDS: “Without a doubt, and without hesitation, the team in GDS is the best, most talented, most courageous and most creative bunch of digital professionals anywhere in the world.

“I have enjoyed every moment of every day working with them, and there are no words to describe how much I will miss them all. Individually they are passionate, committed, skilled and fun; collectively they are the best shot we have to transform government for the internet era. And we all need them to do that.”

Less than three hours after the official announcement, Manzoni published a blog post on in which he praised Foreshew-Cain, who was appointed GDS head last September following the sudden departure of Mike Bracken, for his contributions to the GDS.

He wrote: “Today we’re sad to say goodbye and thank you to Stephen Foreshew-Cain, executive director of GDS.

“Stephen is leaving GDS after two years, first as chief operating officer and then as executive director.

“As chief operating officer, Stephen oversaw the establishment of GDS as a mature operational organisation, following the early start-up years. He established a more disciplined, rigorous approach to the way GDS manages its money, people and programmes.

“As executive director, he has led and overseen a period of outstanding delivery and achievement: Stephen built a new leadership team at GDS and continued to provide [a] supportive environment for the team to excel at what it does.

“Under his leadership, GDS has (amongst many other things) secured four years’ funding in a very challenging spending review; continued to operate and improve GOV.UK; built and deployed two new common services (GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify) that will save millions and make it easier for people across government to build services; taken GOV.UK Verify from beta to live – a world first; and put in place a newly collaborative approach to working with departments, improving the spend controls and service standard assessment processes.

“And all the time keeping true to the mission to make government work better for users.”

Manzoni also paid tribute to Stephen-Foreshew’s work as Cabinet Office LGBT champion, where “he provided visible leadership and championed diversity as the lifeblood of the organisation.”

It is, Manzoni added, “leaders like Stephen who make the civil service the diverse, vibrant organisation it needs to be, through their own actions and also by inspiring and freeing others to bring their whole selves to work.”

Cunnington joins the GDS from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) where he was director-general for business transformation.

In the role, he set up the digital academy which has trained over 3,000 civil servants in digital project management.

Global Government Forum understands that the announcement kicked off a brief handover period involving both, Foreshew-Cain and Cunnington.

Announcing the appointment of Cunnington as new GDS head in the renamed role of director general (instead of executive director), minister for the Cabinet Office, Ben Gummer, said today: “Kevin brings a wealth of experience to GDS from his previous roles, including at Goldman Sachs and Vodafone.

“My predecessor in the Cabinet Office, Matt Hancock, had with foresight and energy pursued an acceleration of the delivery of digital public services. I am determined to complete the work that he began.

“That is why I am confirming the appointment of Kevin Cunnington as the new, and first, director general of the Government Digital Service.

“I have asked him to build on the outstanding legacy of Mike Bracken and Stephen Foreshew-Cain, to work with government departments to continue the transformation of government services so that we can better serve the public, and to continue the global leadership in digital transformation that GDS is rightly famed for here and abroad.”

Manzoni added: “At DWP Kevin played a pivotal role in successfully introducing a range of digital services and products and growing the DWP digital academy. ‎

“He combines that proven track record with a deep understanding of the business transformation necessary to ensure that the full benefits of digital investment are realised.

Cunnington said: “I am delighted to be joining the Government Digital Service, working across government to continue to improve digital services and increase value for money for taxpayers.”

The government’s 2015 spending review outlined a £450 million investment in the service.


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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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