What a Tweeter; Government Is Advertising for [Pounds Sterling]160,000 'Digital Communications' Internet Supremo

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 22, 2009 | Go to article overview

What a Tweeter; Government Is Advertising for [Pounds Sterling]160,000 'Digital Communications' Internet Supremo


Byline: Simon McGee

THE Government has been accused of a 'grotesque waste of public money' after it was disclosed that a senior civil servant is to be paid up to [pounds sterling]160,000 a year to encourage colleagues and Ministers to use social networking sites such as Facebook.

A new post - Director of Digital Engagement - is being created, despite Gordon Brown's promise to cut bureaucratic waste last year by shedding thousands of Whitehall jobs.

The salary, which is only slightly less than the Prime Minister earns, was seized on by critics last night as a further sign of ministers' obsession with the internet, despite the fact that millions of people, particularly the elderly, have no access to a computer.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is a regular blogger and has a Facebook account. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell is also an enthusiastic advocate of Facebook, while Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson uses Twitter - an online short-messaging service that can be updated via computer or mobile phone - to get his message across to voters.

Downing Street has its own Twitter account which provides up-to-the minute updates on Government policy and the Prime Minister's agenda.

At least three members of Downing Street's digital communications team take it in turns to follow the Prime Minister around the world to report on his encounters..

But their mini-bulletins have so far included mundane accounts of the weather and what they ate for lunch. One recent dispatch revealed that one of the team had made a snowman because he was working from home during the recent Arctic conditions.

Officials say the latest post being created is 'in recognition of the huge increase in the use of the internet, digital communities and social media' and because 'digital engagement' is now considered a key Government priority.

But there was a scathing response from Tory MP Philip Davies, who said: 'It defies belief that ministers are faffing around on Facebook and Twitter.

'It is a grotesque amount of public money to waste on a pointless job.

It is absolutely obscene at a time when Britain is going through one of the most serious financial crises in its history.'

Advertisements for the new job say the successful candidate 'will require Government and individual departments to change the way they do business - from consulting citizens to collaborating with them on the development of policy and how public services are delivered to them. It will involve supporting Ministers and senior officials in entering conversations in which Government does not control the message or the dialogue.'

The advert warns: 'Since this is a new role charged with getting Government to work differently, you will have to develop these relationships from scratch in a pressured environment in which Ministerial expectations of delivery are high.

'You will be accountable for leading Government's new focus on digital engagement, which is central to Government priorities and with significant risk of reputational damage if this does not happen or Government gets it wrong. …

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