'Safe hands' Stott fails to inspire – so far

Stott announcement
Well, we didn’t see that one coming, did we? The Cabinet Office ultimately plumped for an internal candidate in its search for a Director of Digital Engagement; Andrew Stott has worked there since September 2004. The new role was ‘created to take forward the Power of Information agenda’, the press release helpfully notes; but in his existing (former?) role, Stott already has/had ‘director-level oversight within the Cabinet Office for the Power of Information work from its inception and was a member of the Minister for Digital Engagement’s Power of Information Taskforce.’ So very much the ‘continuity candidate’, you might say.
The job description for the role (which I’ve reproduced here) called for ‘someone who would be acknowledged by their peer group to be a leader in this field. The successful candidate,’ it said, ‘will have a CV that creates instant credibility and confidence with Ministers, senior officials and digital communicators in Whitehall.’
Sadly, ‘instant credibility’ isn’t the reaction I’ve heard from most of my own contacts. One, on promise of anonymity, called it a ‘spectacular own goal’. Others have been more measured in their language; others much, much less. Several of the responses frankly aren’t printable.
There’s no question general (but for the record, not universal) consensus that Stott will be a ‘safe pair of hands‘. Of course he meets the criteria of having ‘the authority to be credible with Ministers and senior officials’ and ‘experience of the workings of Government’. But there’s little evidence – and I stress, evidence – of his fit with some of the other supposedly essential criteria. If he has ‘run a public facing web site of significant size’, or ‘innovated in web, beyond web publishing’, the web itself doesn’t have much information about it.
I’ve been pointed towards the ‘Information Matters’ strategy published last year by the Knowledge Council, chaired by Stott. Not a document I’ve yet read myself; but Public Sector Forums did, and weren’t impressed – ‘consisting largely as it does of top-down dictums, much reinventing of wheels and what Basil Fawlty would aptly call the bleedin’ obvious.’ (Link for PSF members only)
However, COI’s Andrew Lewin offers grounds for optimism. ‘A new face from the private sector to make a bold splash and shake everything up… wasn’t a very appealing prospect,’ he writes. ‘[Stott is] certainly very familiar with the government scene in the online engagement areas and will be hitting the ground running. This appointment means we should be able to get on with things, but with a high profile person at the head of things to drive it forward still faster.’
And Will Perrin, who knows him from the Power Of Information taskforce, says he is ‘exactly what [the role] needs: responsible, reliable, non political, strong on delivery great with the tech’.
Stott is a brave man, not just because the Daily Mail is against him from day one. If he is to meet the sky-high demands of the role, he needs the active support of the many web-literate civil servants, and the wider ‘gov 2.0’ community. His is not the appointment to win that support instantly, by default. If he is to lead a process of national digital engagement, he first needs to engage with the guys who will actually make it happen.
Oh… and a quick PS: No, I didn’t apply for it. It struck me – rightly, I’d now suggest – as a talking role, rather than a doing role. I’m enjoying the freelance lifestyle too much. I don’t miss the bureaucracy, not in the slightest. I don’t want to be full-time in central London just now. And frankly, there’s too big a political risk attached to the position.

10 thoughts on “'Safe hands' Stott fails to inspire – so far”

  1. I’ve worked with Andrew Stott for a long time. He is an excellent choice for this job. He has credibility with a very broad cross section of people (inside and out), enormous intellect, never lets a problem stop him finding a solution and years of experience making the machine work for the citizen. A great convenor of people, a listener and genuinely collaborative. He’s one of the architects of Transformational Govermement and as a member of the public dealing with government – I’d want him on my side.
    I’d contend that I have a pretty good idea, from the inside, what is required of this role. I’m lucky enough to deal on a daily basis not just with those that buzz around at the sides of government telling those on the inside how they should be doing things, but with those that work very hard every day to make real change happen. And whilst centuries of process, heritage and culture are going to add to the challenge – most of the people I know are desperate to do it right.
    As I said at the recent OpenGov conference, I’m afraid that getting on top of web 2.0 tools and knowing the right digital ‘name’ isn’t going to do the job. Digital engagement for us is about understanding the people we serve and building a responsive, participatory civil service where digital tools and techniques are enablers. I want someone in charge of that who will help me make that happen, help give our digital community in government real credibility, authority and support, not words. And knowing Andrew as I do – he’s definitely the man for the job.

  2. Unfortunately a ‘safe pair of hands’ is the last thing we wanted in the post…I wanted a maverick who would have been naturally subdued by the nature of Whitehall

  3. Let me be entirely clear. There’s no question that Power Of Information represents the right direction to be moving. So, for it to be someone already bought into that process is unquestionably a good thing. And I passionately want the guy to succeed. So, I believe, does everyone else.

  4. Just to repeat my tweet of this afternoon, which seems all the more relevant in the light of subsequent testimonials: ‘Those closest to Stott seem to think he’s ideal for the job. Solution: he needs to bring more of us closer.’

  5. Are there any published performance indicators related to digital engagement? If so, do we know how well central government is performing in relation to them? Are regular independent inspections and audits carried out? I assume so, given this government’s enthusiasm for such things.
    If not, I’m sure Mr Stott’s first priority will be to set up a website (incorporating blogs, wikis, Twitter and RSS feeds and, of course, videos) on which data like this can be published so that we can all keep an eye on him and offer helpful suggestions. Proof, puddings etc.

  6. It is more of the same old, same old and this time the only hope for UK people is a change of government. Anyone in these positions now must be fearing for their job, as the whole “digital” and “direct gov ” agenda has added no public value, or generated private wealth from what I have seen. It could have been built by an SME in a garage for 1/10,000th of the price. Let’s hope for a bonfire of the consultants and those who “procure” them

  7. Agree, with most of the above, just wanted to say that it is about time govt stopped listening to suits and maybe Andrew can make contact with grassroots people and feed some common sense and correct information into ministerial thinking. Maybe then govt will see through the propaganda that BT are feeding them and think out of the box. Only then will we get the infrastructure this country needs to forge ahead in the digital economy.

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