Headlines: October 3rd, 2014

The civil service has appointed its first chief executive, with a remit to drive digital transformation across Whitehall.

John Manzoni, currently head of the Major Projects Authority in the Cabinet Office, will step up to the new CEO role on 13 October. The role effectively combines some responsibilities of the former head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake and former Cabinet Office chief operating officer Stephen Kelly. Manzoni will work alongside cabinet secretary and now head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood.

Among his responsibilities will be executive control of the Government Digital Service, the Crown Commercial Service and the Major Projects Authority. His remit will also cover cross government shared services and civil service reform.

John Manzoni joined the Major Projects Authority in February 2014, having been CEO of Canadian oil and gas company Talisman Energy, and before that CEO of BP Downstream.

Manzoni said digital and technology will be a key part of his new job. He added: “The appropriate application of technology could transform the cost base of the civil service, but in order to do that, you can’t do it bit by bit – we have to have a different conversation from the one we have had thus far. We have to prioritise. That is a conversation that can be completed now to enable all sorts of things to happen.”

Jeremy Heywood said: “The growth of digital will be a priority for every aspect of the civil service in the coming years.
The modern civil service has to be digital all the way through, including in policy making. It’s not just about the civil service – digital principles such as agility, testing things out and getting feedback apply as much to policy making.”

This appointment is another attempt to persuade the civil service to embrace a digital culture. Other attempts over the years included appointing digital champions in departments. The weakness of previous initiatives was that they relied on individual departments to make the running. The result was that progress in culture change was patchy with some areas outstanding, but others uninspiring. This initiative is different because it seeks to influence the culture from the top, downwards.

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