Simon Dickson has been blogging about online government, politics and WordPress since 2005. Some important people read it.

Wednesday 31 December 2008

Mandarin blasts UK gov web failure

Jeremy Gould waves goodbye

A top Whitehall civil servant has sensationally quit in protest at government's failure to take the web seriously. Well, I'm sure someone's going to write it up like that, so it might as well be me. :)

It hasn't exactly been top secret, but 'Whitehall Webby' blogger Jeremy Gould has now formally announced his departure from the civil service. He's quitting his role as head of internet communication at the Ministry of Justice, to join us on the outside as a government-specialist consultant. The post on his blog is clearly from the heart; and even though it's no surprise to hear how he feels, I must admit I'm still a bit surprised to see it expressed so directly. And it's curious to see someone express precisely the same feelings I had when I went solo myself.

It's the right thing to do - for Jeremy himself, and on balance, believe it or not, for the greater good too. Good people need to be given good things to do; and particularly post-Web Rationalisation, individual departments rarely have enough substantial projects to make it worth keeping such good people permanently on the books. The System needs people like Jeremy (and myself) to circulate around, wherever and whenever we're needed. (A point made by Nick Booth earlier this week... although I'm wondering, don't us 'mercenaries' count too?) And in doing so, we see the ever-bigger picture, gain experience, and become better at what we do. I'm unquestionably better at this than when I started two years ago - and everyone benefits as a result.

But senior civil servants - and, frankly, Ministers - should heed his words. 'Web stuff is still not being taken seriously enough. There’s been a lot of talk over the last four years of how more senior strategic web roles are inevitable, but in that time its been just talk. So there was no next move for me. I've also found my extra-curricular activities being scrutinised and discouraged in a way I hadn’t expected after it being benignly ignored for the first year or so.'

Government is rarely short of good people, of which Mr Gould - a good friend, and a great colleague - was unquestionably one. However, it's never short of obstructive people who refuse to rock the boat, even when that boat is demonstrably about to capsize. Tom Steinberg talks about bringing computer-savvy people back into government; wouldn't it be a good start to stop losing the ones you've already got?

Welcome (back) to the real world, mate. It's much more fun out here. And you can actually get stuff done.

Comments ( 10 )

  1. [...] A quick word about Jeremy - he posted today on his blog that he is leaving the civil service, to take some time off with his family and to return some time in 2009 in some capacity as a freelancer. His blog post hints at frustration in his day job and I think he must have felt pretty under appreciated there during the last months. I don’t think this does his department any credit at all and it is a pretty damning indictment that one of the most passionate and able people I have ever met was unable to find a role that suited him and his talents within the UK public sector. He’ll do very well out of the system, of that I have no doubt, but what a shame! If civil servants with a bit of vision and enthusiasm continue to be treated like this, there will be no good ones left. Simon has blogged his thoughts too. [...]

  2. Ha! Ha! Made my day, if not my year :)

    This isn't the end of the disruption, I can assure you. 2009 will be interesting I have no doubt.

  3. [...] » Archive » Mandarin blasts UK gov web failure While some of this chimes with me (I also left government out of frustration and the need for greater flexibility and influence and also agree the web needs to be taken more seriously in govenrment), it also frustrates the hell out me. There has to come a point when we stop moaning, accept the way things are and work around them. “Be the change you want to see”. Especially when almost all of us in this field have left only to return as better paid consultants to government. Biting the hand that feeds much? [...]

  4. Great response Simon. If it means Jeremy is shared round Whitehall a bit more a la Puffbox then it will be a change for the positive. If he sods off to Ireland and never comes back, well... what a loss.

  5. Nick Booth says:

    Of course you count!

  6. Jon Worth says:

    How about a strategy like this (more here) for the whole of the civil service? Would stop good people becoming disenchanted.

  7. You count your money, at any rate...

  8. [...] he’s been a pioneer. It’s been said well by many others so I needn’t repeat it here. The point is: Jeremy’s departure represents [...]

  9. [...] will also need uber executive back up from somewhere in government to make the change happen, with experiences such as those of the recently ex-civil servant Jeremy Gould highlighting the distance the [...]

  10. [...] will also need uber executive back up from somewhere in government to make the change happen, with experiences such as those of the recently ex-civil servant Jeremy Gould highlighting the distance the [...]