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Minister for data John Whittingdale ousted in Cabinet reshuffle

All of the UK ministers responsible for technology, digital and data are moving on as a result of Boris Johnson’s latest reshuffle

By

Brian McKenna,
Business Applications Editor

Published: 17 Sep 2021 10:00

Every UK government minister with responsibility for digital, data and technology policies lost their job as a result of prime minister Boris Johnson’s latest Cabinet reshuffle.

At the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), John Whittingdale, formerly minister for media and data, was removed from his post and said on his Twitter account: “I am sorry to be stepping down as minister for media and data and saying goodbye to a great team of ministers and officials. It has been a privilege to play a part in shaping the future of UK public service broadcasting and in reforming our data laws using our new Brexit freedom.”

On 10 September, Whittingdale had tweeted about his pride in the National Data Strategy on its first anniversary. Guidance for the National Data Strategy was originally published in July 2019, when Theresa May was prime minister.

The National Data Strategy Forum, of which Whittingdale was co-chair, was announced in May 2021 as part of a government response to a consultation on the National Data Strategy held in late 2020.

On 22 June, Whittingdale and Sue Daley, director of innovation and technology at TechUK, co-chaired the first National Data Strategy Forum virtual discussion.

This reportedly convoked a “diverse group from across the UK’s data ecosystem, including business leaders, civil society leaders and data experts”. It approved five workstreams for the Forum, covering such topics as “unlocking the power of data”, using data to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, and “mapping stakeholder activity across the data ecosystem”.

Whittingdale had also been responsible for the recently announced consultation to reform the UK’s data protection laws.

Also at DCMS, digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman, who was responsible for policy on broadband, mobile networks and digital identity, has been sent to the backbenches. On Twitter, Warman said: “Ministers have a huge opportunity to change our great country for the better. It’s been an honour to serve the government as a whip and to improve our broadband, address cyber threats and grow the digital economy. I look forward to doing all I can on that and more from the backbenches.”

Caroline Dinenage, who was appointed minister of state for digital and culture in DCMS on 13 February 2020 in an earlier reshuffle, has also been sacked.

At Cabinet level, Nadine Dorries is taking over from Oliver Dowden as secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. Dowden is now minister without portfolio and co-chairman of the Conservative Party. According to Institute for Government associate Gavin Freeguard, Dorries is the tenth DCMS secretary of state in the last 11 years.

Meanwhile, Julia Lopez, who had had ministerial responsibility for digital government at the Cabinet Office, has moved to DCMS as a minister of state, although her portfolio has yet to be confirmed.

Johnson took away responsibility for government use of data from DCMS and gave it to the Cabinet Office in July 2020, just as Parliament was packing its bags for the summer recess.

At a TechUK Building the Smarter State event in September 2020, Lopez, as parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet and the minister responsible for the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Whitehall’s digital, data and technology (DDaT) function, spoke about that decision.

She said civil service reform was critical to defragmenting online government services, and part of that reform was the new division of labour between the Cabinet Office and DCMS – a “divide and conquer” approach, she said. “Responsibility for government data now sits with GDS and the Cabinet Office, while DCMS will boost the digital economy more widely,” she added.

Michael Gove, formerly Cabinet Office minister, has also moved to become secretary of state at the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government. While at the Cabinet Office, he led plans to mandate use of a proposed new digital identity system for users logging in to the Gov.uk website.

Gove has been replaced at the Cabinet Office by former chief secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay. Responsibility for digital government within the department has yet to be confirmed.

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