Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Civil Serf - does this mean the end for Liberal Bureaucracy?

The recent controversy over the 'Civil Serf' blog which, I note, is no longer accessible, is a reminder of the high-wire act that is blogging when you're a civil servant.

All of us sign the Official Secrets Act when we commence our employment with whatever Department we join, and we are asked to keep any political involvement to a minimum, as is entirely appropriate given our role as servants of government.

For that reason, I don't take positions that are overtly political, acting instead in administrative roles, and always seek authority before seeking election to new positions (management are yet to turn me down). Being comparatively junior helps - I have no connection to the real levers of policy making or decision taking.

However, I have to exercise a degree of self-censorship. It would be inappropriate for me to attack Government policy as it relates to taxation, and I tend not to attack them on much else, instead noting regret or making positive suggestions as I see fit. Pay and conditions are an exception, although my stance - pay civil servants properly, and you'll need less of them - is only controversial if you're a senior figure in my union...

I haven't read 'Civil Serf' but, it would seem, his/her trenchant criticism has been noticed by someone higher up the foodchain, not necessarily a good idea. Anonymous criticism is never popular with authority, and informed anonymous criticism even less so. However, the excerpts that I've seen so far don't appear to breach the Official Secrets Act, unless Civil Serf's views on, for example, Peter Hain, represent a state secret.

That said, the hunt is on, and the indications are that there will be formal guidance for civil servants on blogging in due course. This, of course, impacts on this blog and, potentially, its very existence. Let's just say that I await the next missive from the Cabinet Office with more interest than usual...

1 comment:

Bernard said...

I'm guessing the Civil Service Code was more of a problem than the Official Secrets Act (which, incidentally, I never had to sign. I feel that I have missed out somehow).

I must admit that my blog is dying a slow death as I find it hard not to write stuff that isn't critical of Minsters, so its easier to write nothing at all.