Alexis Cleveland, chief executive of the Pension Service, is expected to be appointed to a top delivery role at the Cabinet Office that will include overseeing the government’s IT efforts.
It is understood that government chief information officer John Suffolk is likely to report to Cleveland in her new role, which will effectively see her replace Ian Watmore, former head of the prime minister’s delivery unit, who is now permanent secretary at the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
The Cabinet Office shake-up follows the wider government reshuffle following Gordon Brown’s arrival at Number 10, which sees Ed Miliband move in as minister for the Cabinet Office, with former transport minister Gillian Merron and former education minister Phil Hope joining his team. Merron is believed more likely to take the ministerial IT brief.
Cleveland will be expected to ensure that the government’s IT goals are delivered, and that there are solid results from the Transformational Government programme aimed at improving public services and making them more efficient through technology.
Progress on the programme so far has not been entirely convincing, with timescale for introducing shared services across the public sector – a key part of the strategy – revealed to have slipped back five years in a series of documents published alongside the delayed Transformational Government annual report in January.
Last month, the powerful House of Commons public accounts committee warned that the role of the government's CIO council – the key group responsible for steering the programme - was not clear and that the top-level IT body had to “raise its game”.
Cleveland will come to the job with previous experience of taking the rap for IT problems under her belt. In February, she was forced to apologise after a Pensions Service processing error led to bank and personal details of up to 26,000 pensioners being sent to the wrong addresses.
The Pensions Service chief also faced the music for an IT glitch in November 2004 when a software upgrade left 80% of desktop PCs unable to connect to mainframe-based benefits systems, delaying payments and forcing staff to raise cheques manually.
But in contrast to Ian Watmore, who took on the delivery role after his own stint as government CIO, Cleveland has moved away from direct IT management in her recent career.
Cleveland’s expected move to the top of the Cabinet Office follows only a minor recent role in its Transformational Government programme, as customer group director for older people – one of a number of similar roles aimed at ensuring that new systems meet the needs of particular groups of people.
The Pensions Service chief executive first joined the civil service as an assistant statistician at the then Department of Health and Social Security in 1978. Over the next decade she worked on policy development, finance, planning and data management.
In 1989 Cleveland moved to the former Information Technology Services Agency – later outsourced by the Department of Work and Pensions to IT services firm EDS – where she managed service delivery and major IT development programmes.
She switched to become CIO and director of operations (South of England) at the DWP’s Benefits Agency in 1993, rising to become the agency’s chief executive in 2000 and overseeing its break-up into five separate businesses.
Cleveland took up her post as chief executive of the Pension Service when it began in April 2002.