Matthew Gould is the CEO of ‘NHSX’, the Quango set up to “foster innovation” in the NHS, despite the prior existence of NHS digital, who already had the same mandate. Another expensive layer of civil servants with little or no tech expertise in the NHS.
Gould is not a techie, he is a former UK ambassador to Israel and a career diplomat with no background in the private sector or technology. Gould is an old school friend of George Osborne. Osborne had former Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood appoint Gould to a role at DCMS despite the lack of relevant experience. Gould likes to crow about the ‘UK-Israel tech hub’ he set up when UK ambassador to Israel. At DCMS, Gould was supposed to manage government relations with ‘GAFAM’ (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft). He spent a lot of taxpayers’ money flying business class to California, where he would apologise for Brexit and then berate them about data privacy issues. Needless to say, GAFAM’s senior execs like Zuckerberg ignored Gould’s requests for meetings and fobbed him off on PR people like Nick Clegg. Gould felt slighted and maintains a grudge against GAFAM.
Nonetheless, Osborne encouraged Matt Hancock to appointed Gould to be ‘CEO’ of NHSX. His appointment was greeted with a collective sigh of despair across the tech-industry that a self-declared ‘tech bluffer’ with no real experience got the £150,000 job. “Let’s be clear” as Matt Hancock likes to say, it is Matthew Gould that has really screwed up the NHS Covid tracing app. Apple is not, as he is trying to spin, to blame.
Gould chose to pursue a policy of “Build rather than Buy” against the advice of everyone who did not work for him. You had two of the world’s largest technology companies joining forces to develop a decentralised, privacy-focused application that most of the world has rolled out in order to trace Coronavirus outbreaks. On the other hand, you have Gould’s team at NHSX, within a government department, outsourcing the build to external contractors based in Switzerland. Who could have predicted it would go wrong? Everyone.
The decision to build the software rather than buy it in – especially as it was already close to existing at the time – was Gould’s decision. It was a decision made for his and NHSX’s glory more than the public interest. Dominic Cummings when he was outside government would rail in blogs about the culture of the Civil Service, where Oxbridge bluffers with no clue would fail and face no consequences. Gould, who read philosophy and divinity at Cambridge, is a classic example. Gould should be fired over this fiasco…