Minister's 'regret' at Civil Serf affair

Full credit to Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson for his extremely measured and well-balanced take on the Civil Serf story. Tom was speaking at Tower 08, a major CO-hosted conference on Transformational Government – and has posted his speech on his long-established (and often highly party-political) blog. For the record, the speech isn’t yet showing on the Cabinet Office site… which probably says something in itself.
4pm update: in fairness to the Cabinet Office, it’s up there now. Kinda.
Cabinet Office grab
(Following evening update: they still haven’t fixed it. But anyway – back to our previously published story…)
Tom said of Civil Serf:

Yesterday I read with regret the story of an anonymous civil servant blogger by the name of Civil Serf. Her bluntly written blog about life in Whitehall was taken down, after it came to the attention of the national press. Now, I’m not going to say that we should tear up the civil service code it’s very important that civil servants play by the rules, nor do I agree with everything she says, but surely a truly transformed government would be one in which speaking engagingly about life our public services would be far from newsworthy, and far from career wrecking.

Hear hear. But that’s not the end of it. Tom goes on to list a number of things happening ‘over the next few months’, some of which I’m getting unreasonably excited about.

I see my job as helping you to accelerate the pace of change. Over the next few months, we will be

  • pushing through the closure of our hundreds of unnecessary websites.
  • improving our online content, including minimum standards for the content of remaining websites.
  • Ensuring that all content held on government web sites is fully accessible to the major search engines.
  • Embedding data mash-up into thinking across all of government not just the early adopters within departments.
  • Driving through the cultural change in all our communications that sees the internet, mobile and other new media as the norm
  • ensuring better innovation and much faster implementation. Build stuff small, test it out then iterate, iterate, iterate.
  • capturing the skills, talent and energy we need for change – from within the public service and from outside. Over the next few weeks I hope to say more on this.
  • using new media to engage more directly and more effectively with individuals and communities.

And the most frequent question my civil servants will hear from me is, ‘Why not’?

Yes yes yes yes yes. In all seriousness, I can’t imagine it getting much better than that. A rallying call, and a list of tangible actions from an e-government minister who knows first-hand what he’s talking about.
Er… except for one thing. I say the Tower 08 conference was backed by the Cabinet Office. You might be interested to discover that the two-day event at the Tower Guoman hotel (formerly the Tower Thistle) was actually ‘hosted by the Cabinet Office in conjunction with Intellect, the trade association for the UK technology industry and is being supported by our sponsors Fujitsu Services, Oracle and Lockheed Martin.’ And it cost £995 ex VAT per head per day.
I’m sorry, but there is something inherently wrong with ‘a range of public sector officials from chief executives and senior managers to customer facing staff’ paying that sort of money to hear their own bosses and colleagues talk.
I’m informed that the conference was actually free for civil servants – although since the web page has now been updated to the past tense, the cost details have been wiped. Still a lot of money for a conference, though.