back to article A minister for GDS? Don't talk digital pony

The appointment of UK digital minister Caroline Nokes yesterday was met with some sniggering when it was revealed she was formerly the chief executive of the National Pony Society. Her posh-girl credentials could not have appeared more obvious if she’d ridden into the Government Digital Service wielding a hockey stick while …

  1. cbars


    If only someone with a background in the department they are supposed to run was appointed. Digital or not.

    Hey, we haven't tried it yet, it might work!

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: Nope

      Provided they have a brain and can think logically I think a non-technical minister is preferable. The last thing we need is a technical (or worse, a supposedly technical) minister spending money to replace systems because they don't use Node.js, Angular or their favourite OS. Better to have someone who can listen to arguments for and against possible solutions and pick the better one rather than the one that uses the framework du jour.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Nope

        Your might just work, if we could get ministers with critical thinking skills.

      2. dedmonst

        Re: Nope

        But that won't happen - what will happen is that the minister will be "lobbied" by certain companies and we will see GDS continue down its current road of travel to become the "Departments for AWS and Azure"

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    2 DUPS / year

    That's more than 35M/week - quick paint it on a buss.

    1. 2460 Something

      Re: 2 DUPS / year

      That made me laugh more than it should have. Brilliant :D

    2. Anonymous Blowhard

      Re: 2 DUPS / year

      You missed the zero, it's 20 DUP per annum! So 385 million per week.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: 2 DUPS / year

        You're right. How could anyone spend 20DUPs/year on IT ????

        Still it does save the cost of repainting the current 350M/week bus

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: 2 DUPS / year

      That's more than 35M/week - quick paint it on a buss.

      SCSI or PCI?

  3. 2460 Something

    The problem isn't that they have a background in the sector or not, it is that they spend stupid amounts of money on 'consultations' with others who know nothing about the sector, yet they are quite happy to 'consult' and make spurious design recommendations that are completely insensible. But that's OK, as they have the right family/government connections.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But that's OK, as they have the right family/government connections.

      That may be true, but I suspect the heart of the problem is that the senior Civil Servants who are supposed to advise politicians lack any tech experience, lack the spine and gravitas to influence a know-nothing politician, and themselves do not have the logical and dispassionate decision making ability.

      1. Nano nano

        And any junior ones, who in the past would have had the expertise, when being a civil servant was a respected role, will have been cost-cut, or walked due to lack of morale or remuneration.

        1. TechnoSceptic

          Coupled with Maude & Co scrapping the Government IT Profession in 2013, getting rid of the CIOs and anyone else who might know how to run a complex IT operation, replacing them with people who had once been on an agile awareness day, to make absolutely sure there was no capability left to bring stuff back in house or manage the systems tsunami of Brexit.

  4. frank ly


    She does remind me of every female horse riding instructor I ever met. (I used to go horse riding a lot.)

  5. JimmyPage

    The "Yes Minister" explanation ...

    fans of the ever-watchable "Yes Minister" will recall that in the first episode, the civil service were terrified that Jim Hacker - who had spent years in opposition for Agriculture - might get made minister for Agriculture where he would be able to call "bullshit" from a position of expertise.

    Luckily the Cabinet Secretary advised the PM that Hackers thinking might have "got into a rut" and therefore the Agriculture appointee knew nothing about Agriculture (and as we know Hacker became SoS for Administrative Affairs).

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I suppose that the skills actually needed right now are negotiating skills and anyone with those will be in the Brexit crew.

    1. Rich 11

      Or running for the hills rather than accept that poisoned chalice.

    2. Vic

      I suppose that the skills actually needed right now are negotiating skills and anyone with those will be in the Brexit crew.

      [Citation Needed] ...


      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge


        I initially wrote "team" and then decided that suggested an unlikely degree of cohesion. "Crew" seemed more appropriate. After all, wrecked ships start with a crew.

  7. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Tip of the iceberg

    Software mission creep and price gouging is only the latest example of the old pals' act, funny handshakes and secret societies - something that been going on not just for decades, but a century or two. The only real difference is that these days, information spreads fast enough for us to hear about it before someone manages to hide it away.

    I don't see any likelihood of this changing in the foreseeable future.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They have a society for £25's?

    or are we talking the 4 legged equestrian variety?

    I'm sure she'll give a fine upstanding effort or sort out all the problems with the commoners.

    Shine a light...

  9. Anonymous Coward


    I predict many weeks for her 'fact finding' on how the Seychelles Govt. has rolled-out Office 365

  10. Lotaresco

    She can't be

    ... any worse than the rest of GDS who, to be honest, are in the chocolate teapot or transparent blackout curtain field of competence. Every so often I have to engage with GDS for some reason or other and leave feeling that there is time that I will never get back again.

  11. Lotaresco

    Breaking the mould?

    "Maude is regarded as having achieved more than most in trying to break the insane amount of money the public sector still spends on, frankly, crap IT."

    By whom, may I ask? All that he has done is to change the type of crap rather than to eliminate it. The same big players are still there, doing the same rubbish. The gCloud turned out to be a massive waste of effort and money that no one wanted to use. Maude destroyed CESG mostly it seems in a fit of pique because he was told he couldn't use his personal iPad for government business so he just got rid of the people who gave that advice and replaced them with some who said "risk is good". That's gone well this week with the Parliamentary hack, hasn't it?

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "..16 different government departmental systems that need to talk to each other..for freight"

    In a nutshell why government IT is so very challenging if done properly.

    Big system X multiple interfaces X complex data issues X high reliability X multiple jurisdiction X P88s poor formal salary structures. --> Poor candidates + poor implementations

    You need some one who's excited, not terrified by that level of complexity. Historically the UK Civil Service did train its in house staff and they could have a career (with associated pension) in the UKG. Naturally that ended decades ago and they thought it a genius grade idea to not just gut themselves of their technical staff, but also their technical management stuff.

    Meaning they relied on their con-tractors to tell them what was what.

    Like the Australian Tax office trusting HPE.

  13. FozzyBear

    You may now have Nokes. In Australia we have Brandis. The man who still has problems finding the On/off switch to his laptop but stylises him as the IT Architect Supreme.

  14. Rob Gr

    "Maude is regarded as having achieved more than most in trying to break the insane amount of money the public sector still spends on, frankly, crap IT."

    I think your fingers must have slipped on the last two words there. Crap-IT-a, surely.

  15. TechnoSceptic

    ...caught up in a row as to whether it should be open source, an in-house build, ... a package

    A rerun, then, of CAP-D and Universal Credit. So we know how this is going to end.

  16. Judge John Deed

    Shallow thinking

    This is typical of the shallow thinking of the muppets who almost exclusively occupy the front benches on both sides of the house. The government is focussing on the symptoms and not the underlying causes. Hence they are focussed on the Brexit negotiations without grasping that failing to deal with the underlying technical issues will ultimately thwart their efforts.

    An example of his shallow thinking - they don't understand that the country's lack of productivity has its roots in the failed application of technology, which is little to do with "digital skills and / or apprenticeships and / or investment in business parks." Even one of the key cures (infrastructure) is absolutely dependent upon technology if we are to achieve exponential improvement, which is what is needed for our infrastructure.

    Another example of shallow thinking: ministers talk about the level of employment as if that is a measure of a sound economy. Our growth in GDP is heavily dependent upon consumer spending largely financed by consumer credit - which is now at the same level as just before the financial-crash. We have met that (fickle) demand by an increase in low paid jobs which has reduced unemployment and fueled the demand for immigrant labour but (because it is coupled with an increase in consumer spending) has also increased both poverty and inevitably, inequality. A measure of the inadequacy of George Osbourne's economic thinking is that he had to steal his economic policy from Frank Underwood (House of Cards.)

    In principle, GDS is a good idea and the rightthing to do - the problem is in the execution. Recruiting technically-savvy youngsters has a place in the solution, but they have been given power far beyond their capabilities. In addition, governemnt IT requires people with:

    1) technical knowledge - if they don't understand technology they are unable to to understand the implications of the decisions beng made. Government IT is full of project managers who are accountants or HR professionals by trade, who therefore make crass decisions based on budget and timescale rather than the usefulness of the end product that is delivered.

    2) the ability to apply critical thinking and life experience to the use of technology - otherwise you get technology looking for a problem to solve, or technology solving the wrong problem.

    3) integrity - government IT doesn't pay very much, so decent senior staff recruited externally tend to stay for a little while, form a network of contacts, understand the landscape, and then move out to leverage that experience for personal profit.

    4) "big picture thinking" - the landscape is complex with many interconnections. A big brain is required to understand this landscape and identify the best ways to de-couple dependencies - since it is these dependencies which so often de-rail government IT projects

    Instead they continue to recruit a mix of sales-focussed executives from "big" consultancies, career civil servants, and bearded, sandal-wearing geeks. The future is bleak.

  17. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


    If only someone at the centre could gallop in to the rescue with a proper pan-government plan

    Someone like...?

  18. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    About GDS

    Straight from the horse's mouth...

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