Day three of cabinet reshuffle and still unclear who is in charge of digital agenda

SUMMARY:

The Cabinet Office and Number 10 are avoiding responsibility, claiming the other should know. Who will be in charge of digital and GDS?

The Prime Minister has undertaken a cabinet reshuffle this week, which, for a number of reasons, didn’t go entirely to plan and resulted in some ministers refusing to move and others quitting entirely. However, now that the full line up has been announced, one would think that decisions around ownership of policy had been made and responsibilities assumed. Apparently not…

It’s now the third day since the cabinet reshuffle began and it seems that no one is yet clear on who will assume responsibility for digital and the Government Digital Service (GDS) within the Cabinet Office.

It was revealed during the announcements that Caroline Nokes, who had been been put in charge of digital as part of her remit as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office just six months ago, would be moving over to the Home Office for an immigration role. Nokes was the third person to take on the role in under two years.

Her departure left ministerial leadership for GDS and digital policy vacant – with questions remaining about who would fill her shoes. Would it be the new Cabinet Office Minister, David Lidlington? It seems that no-one yet knows.

For the third day in a row, I rung the Cabinet Office this morning asking the simple question: “Do we yet know who would assume responsibility for digital and GDS?”.

Today, I was told that it may be best to ring the Prime Minister’s office, as they will be allocating policy responsibility as part of the reshuffle. Fine. I then call Number 10 Downing Street, where the press team tell me that I should speak to the Cabinet Office, as they will be deciding the policy ownership.

Cabinet Office pointing at Number 10, Number 10 pointing at the Cabinet Office.

To be honest, I’m inclined to listen to the Prime Minister’s office, as the press person I spoke to there seemed to have more of an understanding of the protocol, claiming that the Cabinet Office must be “confused”, as it’s the responsibility of the most senior minister (in this case, David Lidlington) to assign the briefs.

As a result, they said, it’s likely that the Cabinet Office simply just doesn’t know yet who will be in charge of GDS and that it will be down to the Minister.

And so, we wait. It could be that David Lidlington takes on the role. But given that it’s been reported that he will take on a role close to the Prime Minister, my guess is that he will hand it over to one of the more junior leaders in the department – new names of which include Oliver Dowden and Chloe Smith.

Elsewhere

It was also revealed this week that Matt Hancock, previously Minister for Digital at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has been promoted to Secretary of State.

As a result, the Prime Minister revealed that Margot James, MP for Stourbridge, will become the Minister of State for Digital, Culture and Sport – taking up Hancock’s previous responsibilities. We don’t know too much about James at this point, except that she was pro-Remain during the EU referendum and that her previous role was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business.

However, Matthew Gould, director general for digital and media at DCMS, tweeted his congratulations:

My take

Hopefully the situation will become clearer today following PMQs this afternoon, but it doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence when departments begin pointing fingers at each other as to which has responsibility for deciding who is responsible for something as important as the digital agenda. All we can hope is that once the role is assigned, that the person in question is competent and sticks around for longer than six months.

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