New Wales Office websites by Puffbox

Swyddfa CymruWe’re exceptionally proud to unveil the latest Puffbox site: a new corporate website – or indeed, two – for the Wales Office. And as you’d probably expect from us, it’s not just another government website.

In late 2007, I was invited over to the Wales Office’s Whitehall HQ. I hope they don’t mind me saying, their website was probably the ugliest in government, and people were starting to take notice. They had no hands-on control of their own content, and no site usage data. Could Puffbox help? Yes, yes we could.

The new site, which we’re launching today, was designed, built and populated in a timescale (and for a budget) which would put many suppliers to shame, and gives them functionality which many of their Whitehall neighbours will envy. I also believe it could spark a culture change in how government communicates.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear it’s built on the WordPress ‘blogging’ platform, and continues our series of ‘blogs which aren’t blogs’. News releases, speeches, publications and FOI disclosures are all entered as ‘blog posts’, distinguished using categories. All the more static, corporate stuff is done as ‘pages’.

For the readers, there are immediate benefits. Obviously, it’s prettier. It’s been coded with better accessibility in mind. Every page is automatically printer-friendly, using CSS. The blogging mechanism gives reliable, automated archiving by category and month. Not to mention the various RSS feeds. And as you’re legally entitled to expect, there’s a fully-functional Welsh-language version too.

And for the Wales Office themselves, it’s a quantum leap. Previously they’ve been emailing pages out for someone to hand-code: yes folks, even in 2008. (Not the only ones, either.) They now have direct access into their publishing back-end, with all the benefits thereof. And because it’s WordPress, page authoring and management is a breeze. That’s before we get on to things like Google rankings, site usage statistics, multi-site and mobile working…

Why do I see it as a culture-changer? The site is being run by the Press Office, a small team in a small department (60 staff). They have the authority, and now the ability, to publish new communications at a moment’s notice. If they want to operate by ‘bloggers’ rules’, they can. And as I recall Tom Steinberg once saying, it’s the tools which are transformational. Let’s see what happens… and if they make a success of it, expect others to follow.

Cabinet Minister for digital inclusion?

A timely piece from the BBC’s Ashley Highfield on the ‘digital divide’. It’s timely, because as of this week, Britain has a Cabinet-level minister with responsibility for digital inclusion – Wales secretary Paul Murphy. This news appeared to come as a surprise to BBC Wales’s David Cornock when it emerged at PMQs this lunchtime. Mr Brown announced:

The new Secretary of State for Wales has responsibilities in addition to his responsibilities for Wales. He is overseeing the British-Irish Council, he is responsible for the joint ministerial committees on devolution, he is the Minister responsible for digital inclusion, and he is responsible for data security and information assurance. Those responsibilities are in addition to his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Wales.

All of which is very timely, for reasons I’ll reveal here tomorrow. (Although if you attended my session at Barcamp, you know already.)

Panic over

Well, that’s a relief. With Peter Hain resigning at lunchtime, there was a rush of quite rational speculation that the Wales Office might be folded into a new ‘department for the devolved bits’, covering Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I’ve been doing a bit of work for the Wales Office over the last month or so, which I’ll (hopefully?) be unveiling at Saturday’s government BarCamp. I’m exceptionally proud of it, and I think it’s a potentially groundbreaking piece of work for e-government. But if Downing Street had announced the end of the Wales Office as a department in its own right, the whole point of my project would have disappeared. And for a moment this afternoon, it looked like my masterpiece might never see the light of day.

Paul Murphy, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear of your appointment. I note he’ll also be chairing a ‘new cross-departmental committee on IT and information security – although the grammar of the No10 announcement doesn’t make clear if it means IT generally, or IT security specifically.