Dominic Cummings, PM adviser who sought ‘unusual’ tech skills for government, to leave No.10

Written by Richard Johnstone on 13 November 2020 in News
News

High profile adviser who had vision for civil service reform and technology reported to be leaving by Christmas

Photo: PA

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s controversial senior adviser who has led plans to recruit more computer scientists, software developers and 'super-talented weirdos' into government, is to leave Downing Street.

Cummings re-entered government as the top adviser to Boris Johnson when he became prime minister last July, having previously worked as a special adviser to Michael Gove at the Department for Education. Cummings famously led the Vote Leave campaign and entered government in 2019 with the aim to “Get Brexit Done” then lead a civil service reform plan, including a focus on improved tech skills in Whitehall.

In a blogpost earlier this year, Cummings called for “unusual” computer scientists, data scientists and software developers to work in No.10 alongside “weirdos and misfits".


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In a job advert posted on his personal blog in January, Cummings said he wanted “unusual mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, data scientists”, among others, to fill gaps in expertise as part of his plans to overhaul how government works.

Cummings has also famously argued that the concept of a permanent civil service “an idea for history books”, but his own departure has been reported by both the BBC and Sky News this morning, and confirmed by transport secretary Grant Shapps.

Cummings has been at the centre of developing civil service reform plans, which began in earnest after the Conservative election victory last December. In a blog in January, he said: “It is obvious that improving government requires vast improvements in project management. The first project will be improving the people and skills already here.”

However, the post also took the form of a job ad, calling for applicants with a PhD or MSc in maths or physics and “outstanding” mathematical skills; experience using programming languages such as Python, SQL or R to email him, as well as those familiar with data tools and technologies such as Postgres, Neo4j and Scikit Learn.

Applicants were expected to have “exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities or have done something that demonstrates equivalent (or greater) talents and skills”, he said.

“We will be using machine learning and associated tools so it is important you can program. You do not need software development levels of programming but it would be an advantage.”

It is not known how many people were recruited though the unusual job ad, in which Cummings asked people to email him personally – but it is known that two of those recruited have now left government.

A data specialist Will O’Shea, who joined the Government Digital Service after responding to Cummings’ January blog post, was fired after a tweet in which he suggested police should open fire on Black Lives Matter protesters, while self-described “superforecaster” Andrew Sabisky joined No. 10 as an adviser early this year but resigned within weeks, after the discovery of online comments he is understood to have made on subjects including race, the benefits system, and women’s sport. This included posts in which it was suggested that there are genetic racial differences in intelligence, and that black Americans have a lower IQ than their white counterparts.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is the acting editor of PublicTechnology's sister title Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared.

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