Civil Serf suspended

I’m reluctant to write this solely on the basis of a piece in the Mail (on Sunday?), but it seems Civil Serf has been identified and suspended by DWP.

Investigators hunting for the blogger summoned her to a meeting last week, when it is understood that she denied responsibility. She was told she was being suspended regardless and, when she was ordered to attend a subsequent meeting with the inquiry team, she finally confessed.
She was caught after the Government dedicated a team of computer experts to track her down across the internet. A source in the DWP said it was an extraordinary outlay of resources as the team was told to clear their desks of everything except their hunt for Civil Serf.

OK, if we try to strip away the inevitable tabloid hyperbole, which isn’t necessarily straightforward… this is almost the worst possible conclusion. Denying responsibility was a bit daft, and probably only made things worse. It also leaves DWP looking just a bit reactionary.
What message are they trying to send, I wonder? And what signals does it send about DWP senior management’s appreciation of the way communications are evolving?
Reminder: DWP takes ownership of the government’s flagship web project in a couple of weeks.

6 thoughts on “Civil Serf suspended”

  1. Something like ‘if you’re going to publish anonymous critical comments about your employer on the web, don’t expect this to go down well on your next promotion board’, I guess. If she’d worked for Tesco and had published similarly critical comments about their working practices, I expect she would have received similar – although perhaps not quite so heavy handed – treatment.
    Her posts were, I think, largely critical of the civil service – there’s lots to criticise, of course. But she would have signed the Official Secrets Act and, whether she liked it or not, that made what she was doing a criminal offence.
    I suspect that her department were more concerned about what she might have published, had she continued, rather than what she had already revealed (civil servants in overlong/overlarge meetings, shock horror!! bureaucratic decision making process rather bureaucratic etc. etc.)
    The issue to my mind is whether blogs like this can play a positive role in improving government. Maybe/maybe not in my viev. For what it’s worth, my gut feeling that encouraging people to post anonymous ‘we’re shite at…’ comments in public doesn’t really help.

  2. The hyperbole rating is clearly pretty high in the Mail story, but no need to add to it. She would not have signed the Official Secrets Act, because it is not how it works, nor would what she wrote (from what I remember seeing of it) have constituted a criminal offence, because the law was changed almost twenty years ago to narrow its scope considerably.
    There has been plenty of commentary around on the question of whether it was reasonable of her to blog the way she did. My view is that what she wrote crossed over what it is appropriate for civil servants may do in public. Whether you agree with that or not, it seems a touch careless if you are going to blog in that style to do it using your employer’s kit in a way which allows tracing to be fairly straightforward. Assuming, of course, that the Mail story is accurate in any respect at all.
    The connection with Directgov, by the way, is weak to the point of invisibility. Even if the Mail account is essentially accurate, I think it tells us little if anything about how Directgov will be managed by DWP and nothing at all about the future role of Directgov in government more generally.

  3. I think there is a link to Directgov. They have been the worst at communication and listening. AKA arrogance. Compare their reaction to negative criticism vs the BBC’s or GovCommunications. They haven’t shown any willingness to listen or respond — I’ve seen this personally but Simon is also talking to a similar experience (Simon?). It’s a different thread but that’s the link: ‘la la la, I can’t hear you’. This is despite criticism being looked at – I can see this in my stats – and internally shared. It’s the external relations which they don’t have, or, apparently, want to have. Why is this a bad thing? Because they think they’re the holders of all truth and failing to listen means you don’t build the best website. It’s also plain rude and discourteous because we’re all, as citizens, trying to help them build a better website. Does anyone have a different experience of them because I’d love to hear it.

  4. I thought civil servants still have to sign it but partly to remind them that the law exists and partly, I assume, in case they end up in court. I signed forms confirming that I was aware the act and its implications at least 3 times, the last occasion being my resignation. Like any law, it would have applied whether or not I was aware of it. You’re right re. its coverage and she certainly didn’t give away any secrets.
    Tom Watson’s proposed rules seem pretty clear and reasonable: a case for JFDI, I think.

  5. The sins and virtues of Directgov are as they are. My point was simply that whatever DWP may or may not have been doing in pursuit of Civil Serf doesn’t either tell us anything much about the past philosophy of Directgov when it wasn’t managed from DWP, or anything much more about how it will be managed from DWP when it moves there next month. The people the Mail claims to be looking for Civil Serf simply aren’t the same people who will have much of a voice in the direction of Directgov. DWP is a big complicated organisation as capable of thinking and doing six inconsistent things simultaneously as any other big complicated organisation.
    But a further thought on the Mail story which started this thread off. If they really had any direct information about investigators or investigations, it’s hard to see why they should still be looking for clues about who Civil Serf is. The fact that they are still asking about that completely undermines the credibility of the story this post links to.

Comments are closed.