PM Johnson shuffles technology and digital ministers again

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Prime minister Boris Johnson has once again shuffled around all the key Cabinet roles involved with the technology sector in his latest set of ministerial appointments.

At the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Oliver Dowden takes over as secretary of state, replacing Nicky Morgan, who had been in the job for a little over six months.

Dowden was previously Cabinet Office minister, where he was responsible for digital government. The move to DCMS follows in the footsteps of Matt Hancock – now secretary of state for health and social care – who trod the same path in 2018.

In his new role, Dowden will look after government policy on the digital economy, including broadband, 5G, digital skills, tech startups, digital identity, data protection, and the forthcoming National Data Strategy.

Dowden will look after a digital sector that contributes £400m to the UK each day, generated £149bn for the UK in 2018, and accounts for 7.7% of the overall UK economy, according to DCMS figures.

No details had been released at the time of publication about junior ministerial changes, but it is likely that Matt Warman will remain as digital minister under Dowden, a post the former technology journalist has filled since Johnson’s first ministerial appointments in July 2019.

Dowden’s former job as Cabinet Office minister has gone to Michael Gove, who was previously in charge of Brexit planning, and is seen by many observers as the de facto deputy prime minister. Gove becomes the sixth holder of the Cabinet Office post since the 2015 General Election, following Dowden, David Lidington, Damian Green, Ben Gummer and Hancock.

Gove will oversee the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Crown Commercial Service, cyber security, as well as the recently created role of government chief digital and information officer, for which recruitment started in September last year.

Jeremy Quin was appointed only last month as a junior minister in the Cabinet Office, reporting at the time to Dowden, responsible for GDS and cyber security. He has also been reshuffled, becoming minister for defence procurement at the Ministry of Defence. It is not yet clear who will take over from Quin as the junior minister beneath Gove, but whoever does so will be the eighth minister in charge of digital government since 2015.

Former international development secretary Alok Sharma has replaced Andrea Leadsom as secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, a role which has historically jointly led policy on support for the UK’s artificial intelligence (AI) sector, as well as the digital aspects of the industrial strategy.

Johnson was bullish about the role of technology in his election campaign, promising investment in full-fibre broadband, AI, research and development, tech startups, and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.

In a speech last month, Nicky Morgan promised that the new government would be “unashamedly” pro-technology, with plans to focus on ensuring a free and open internet, protecting the vulnerable and ensuring safety and security, pro-innovation regulation, and sharing the benefits of tech more widely and fairly.

“The first principle is that we will be an unashamedly pro-technology government in all that we do, because we believe that, harnessed properly, technology is an immense force for good,” she said.

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