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Chair’s Reception - Rachel Tsang from Government Digital Services

Manchester Digital members gathered in the Bruntwood Manchester Technology Centre on Thursday, June 17 for the summer Chair’s Reception, sponsored by Slalom. Manchester Digital chair Alison Ross, from Auto Trader, introduced the speaker from the Government Digital Service (GDS), Rachel Tsang. The breakfast session was brilliantly hosted by Wes Davies, architecture practice lead at Slalom.

Rachel is a Deputy Director at GDS, working on digital identity, and spoke about the One Login programme for government and the digital transformation across public services that it will enable, GDS’s growth in Manchester as well as achieving greater diversity in tech leadership.

GDS has recently celebrated its tenth birthday since its inception and is now more vital than ever.

Wes asked Rachel about GDS’s journey over the past 10 years, and she said, “The origins of GDS are really interesting - Martha Lane Fox, the UK’s then Digital Champion, was invited by Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, to undertake a review of DirectGov, which was one of the main government websites at the time, in a wider context of how technology was developing within society. There were hundreds of different existing government websites and it was really difficult to navigate. Martha’s crucial recommendation was that a person shouldn’t have to understand the structure of government in order to interact with it and that there was a need to bring things together.

“This prompted the creation of GDS, with the launch of the GOV.UK alpha several months later, which eventually replaced DirectGov and Business Link and almost 2,000 other government websites. It really was an extraordinary journey. .”

Rachel explained, “The fundamental aim of One Login is a continuation of GDS’s core mission to make things easier for users by joining things up with the ambition of delivering a single, ubiquitous way for people to prove that they are who they say they are online in order to access digital public services.

“One of the things we’re really focusing on, reflecting on lessons learnt from GOV.UK Verify, is inclusion and accessibility. Around 20% of UK adults don’t own a smartphone and lots don’t have photo ID, such as a passport or driving licence. We owe a lot to DWP for helping us to think about different ways to help verify someone’s identity and make sure that we’re not leaving anyone behind.

“We also have a significant focus on adoption; working really closely with other government departments to encourage uptake of the solution that we’re building, and making self-adoption as easy as possible. .”

Wes went on to ask Rachel about the move of GDS services out of London. She said, “This is part of a wider cross-government initiative to develop places for growth. It’s right that we should be looking to build more of a presence outside of London so that we can better reflect the society that we serve.

“GDS has opened offices in Manchester and Bristol, with currently 100 people in Manchester. We should have about 150 by the end of the year and up to 40% of our workforce will be outside London in the future.

We’re really excited about building up more of a presence in Manchester and have partnered with Manchester Digital, MMU and other outreach programmes to invest in local talent and build a strong local talent pipeline.”

Wes asked about Rachel’s own career in digital and promoting greater diversity in tech, “I was interested in IT when deciding on A-level subjects, but was told it wasn’t for girls - so I decided not to pursue it even though I’d done quite well at GCSE IT. Despite that, I’ve always been drawn to tech, had heard about GDS - and when a strategy role came up working on GOV.UK, I didn’t hesitate to apply.

“Diversity is hugely important. One of the things that makes GDS really brilliant is the emphasis that we place on culture and diversity; making sure that it’s an inclusive working environment and investing the time and effort, for example through diverse interview panels as well as staff forums and networks.

Wes asked Rachel about the changing role of digital in government, she explained, “When I first moved to GDS, people were surprised because it seemed like an unusual career move given that I’d done a series of strategy, programme delivery and policy roles. But over the past few years, that perception has changed, everyone can see so much value in digital and you see this filtering through to policy making. Previously, people would think about face-to-face interventions by default but Brexit and Covid-19 have prompted huge changes in the delivery of public services. It’s much more efficient to do things digitally - both for users as well as government’s use of taxpayer’s money.”

And lastly, what would you say to women who are considering a role in digital?
“I’ve dived in and not looked back! I would say, just speak to people who work in tech as they are usually so friendly and open about what their role is and what they do. Seek out people on LinkedIn and just ask them about their job.”

Thanks to our sponsor Slalom, find out more from them here or for an informal chat, contact Paul Squire (

The next Chair's Reception will be Thursday 6th October. Please email to be added to the invite list.

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