Public Services

Tech industry relishes potential access and influence from Matt Hancock's promotion

David Bicknell Published 09 January 2018

techUK welcomes Hancock's new Culture Secretary role and praises support already provided by Karen Bradley and Matthew Gould; IfG repeats concern that digital government still needs visible support from big-hitters May and Hammond


It was back in mid July 2016 when I recall having a chat with then Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock at the end of a Reform event on how technology and the tech sector help improve productivity.

There was the opportunity for a few questions at the event, though not mine. But Hancock had spotted my frustrated hand and agreed to a hurried 'walk and talk' chat on his way out of the meeting.

Just a few hours later, it was announced that Theresa May was set to become the UK's next prime minister after Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the contest to become Conservative Party leader.

In the subsequent ministerial reshuffle, Hancock found himself as digital minister at what was then still the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

To his credit, as we learned yesterday from May's rather chaotic reshuffle, Hancock has re-established himself within the senior ranks of government, taking over as Culture Secretary from Karen Bradley, who has moved to the Northern Ireland Office.

There was a tweet yesterday afternoon, before Hancock's appointment from the Sun newspaper's political editor Tom Newton Dunn, suggesting that "A rather pleased looking Matt Hancock has just skipped into No10. He would be very good as Culture/Digital Secretary though." As you might expect, Newton Dunn's insight was spot on because about 40 minutes later, Hancock had indeed become Culture Secretary.

At a stroke, Hancock's appointment gives the tech industry greater influence and leverage around the Cabinet table. Not that it didn't have already have strong support through Karen Bradley within DCMS, for whom techUK's chief executive Julian David was today fulsome in his praise for her support.

He said, "I would also like to thank Karen Bradley for all her work as Secretary of State. She was always ready to listen and engage with the tech industry in a highly constructive way, and oversaw many vital pieces of work within the department."

In Hancock, however, the tech industry recognises that having worked with him at the Cabinet Office, Hancock understands tech, digital and notably, cyber security. Indeed, it was Hancock who is regarded as the architect for DCMS changing its name to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

David said, "techUK congratulates Matt Hancock on his appointment. He has been a fantastic Minister for Digital and I welcome his continued presence in DCMS. His appointment comes at a critical time for the tech industry with GDPR coming into force later this year, a rapidly digitising economy and continued uncertainty over Brexit. I, and the whole of techUK, look forward to working with him on these and a host of other issues over the coming years."

Having taken on his Culture Secretary portfolio, Hancock certainly didn't have long to get his feet under the desk. By mid-afternoon today, he was In the Commons, responding to an urgent question on pay equality at the BBC!
As well as his praise for Bradley and Hancock, David also paid tribute to the work within DCMS of Matthew Gould as Director General for Digital and Media Policy.

Within May's reshuffle, which has still to be completed, there are still several question marks over who will have responsibility within the Cabinet Office for digital government and the Government Digital Service (GDS), after it emerged that Caroline Nokes will be heading to the Home Office as immigration minister. One new Cabinet Office name recently announced is Oliver Dowden, who becomes Parliamentary Secretary. Aged 39, he used to be David Cameron's deputy chief of staff. Early on Tuesday evening, it emerged that Norwich North MP Chloe Smith would be taking up another Parliamentary Secretary role at the Cabinet Office.

That still left the Institute for Government's (IfG) programme director Daniel Thornton wondering who will take on the digital government portfolio, and perhaps more importantly, what their level of seniority will be. He hopes that whoever it is, they should be as senior as possible. Ideally, it would be new Cabinet Office minister David Liddington, supplemented by clear support for digital government right from the very top of government.

Last year the IfG complained that digital government had no visible political leadership, with Thornton arguing that the Prime Minister must appoint a minister to take charge of digital government. He said the IfG wanted to see more active reference to and support for digital government from, for example, the Prime Minister and from Chancellor Philip Hammond. The closest Hammond has come to talking about 'digital' is in referencing Making Tax Digital, he said.

He said, "As Minister for the Cabinet Office from 2010-2015, Lord (Francis) Maude provided visible political leadership for digital government. After his departure, and for the past two years, there has been a lack of political leadership for digital government from the centre of Whitehall.

"Big decisions, such as about which system to use for verifying citizens' identity across government, have been ducked. Unlike their predecessors, Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond have not spoken about digital government. Together with comments by Amber Rudd about "necessary hashtags," it seems that senior ministers are not taking a keen interest in digital government."

Thornton credited Hancock for his influence in giving DCMS its digital makeover to incorporate the word 'digital' in its title, and he suggested Hancock certainly understands that broadband is a big issue and gets the importance of cyber security. "I was on a panel with him the other week and he does take cyber security seriously," he said.

On the wider reshuffle and the overall impact on the tech industry, techUK's Julian David said, "While many other Cabinet Ministers have stayed in place, we also welcome David Liddington to the Cabinet Office and David Gauke to the Ministry of Justice as excellent appointments in vital Departments for UK tech. We also strongly support the greater recognition given to Social Care and Housing in the new Department for Health and Social Care and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Both are key domestic policy challenges, and both are areas in which tech will have a significant role to play as part of the solution."

It will take some months before the tech industry's ambitions and potential influence on what transpires around, for example, Brexit, can be realised. But there is little doubt, as Newton Dunn spotted, that Theresa May's decision to promote Hancock had put a spring in both his and now, the tech industry's step.


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