Mike Bracken has announced that he will be stepping down from his job as the Director of the UK's Government Digital Service, following four years in the post.
Although Bracken has never committed to serve for any defined length of time, the move has shocked and surprised many working closely with the Whitehall organisation and brings into question why the decision has been made.
Bracken has been strategic in creating and implementing much of the UK's digital strategy, which is globally recognised as being pioneering and is often referred to as world-leading by many international governments.
And although Bracken has achieved a great deal during his tenure - including the transformation of many key citizen services and more notably for making 'digital' a force to be reckoned with across central government - in many respects it felt like he was just getting going.
For instance, the innovative and largely unprecedented proposal for government-as-a-platform, for which he has been spearheading, has got many excited about the future possibilities and direction of GDS.
But despite the announcement leaving many in shock, in a blog post Bracken has made assurances that digital in government is in safe hands. He also thanked many of his influencers and advisors. He said:
At the end of last week I went to see my boss, John Manzoni to tell him I’m leaving government.
I wanted to take a moment here to thank everyone for the tremendous help I’ve been given in the last five years.
I have to start with Martha Lane Fox and Francis Maude for making the conditions to bring me, and those of the Internet generation, into the very centre of government, and setting such an incredible challenge and offering unwavering support along the way. Chris Chant was my guide around Whitehall and showed me what unacceptable services really look like.
“I also have to acknowledge all the digital government pioneers who were here long before the advent of GDS, doing dedicated, important work, largely unheralded. We started off standing on the shoulders of giants. They know who they are. Most of them are at OpenTech each year. And before them, if it wasn’t for Tom Steinberg and his work with Rohan Silva, I don’t think GDS would have existed. They and the many other early pioneers, have my utmost respect.
He also offered his thanks to the current and past workers of GDS, as well as the the users of digital services that have gone through the transition.
And, as we always say - The Unit of Delivery is the Team. Leadership is a total privilege, one can only lead with the consent and support of a team and I’ll say right here and now that the team at GDS is the best digital delivery group in the world. It has been an honour and a pleasure to work with them all, whether they are here now or spent just a short period with us in the last 5 years. They are dedicated, determined, talented and funny. I will miss them more than I can possibly explain. Government doesn’t know how lucky it is.
Which means I’m leaving government’s digital delivery in capable hands – especially with the support we are getting for the future of digital transformation from the new Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matt Hancock. The GDS leadership is strong, our plans are clear and focused, our people - and digital teams across government - are rolling up their sleeves to continue the work of
transformation. One particular pleasure has been seeing new leaders emerging, and I can confidently say within GDS and departments we have many inspiring digital leaders from a range of disciplines, and many of them are women. I wish them every continuing success.
And, finally, of course, I have to thank our users. On the many occasions when this job has been an absolute pleasure it’s normally been because someone’s just shown me a digital product that will make some user’s life a little easier. I’ll write more about where I am going - and the future I see for digital generally - on my own blog at mikebracken.com.
The news, however, raises a number of questions about the future direction of GDS. We will be posting an analysis of the announcement tomorrow morning.