Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Welsh Politics needs an Open Culture in the Welsh Assembly Government

Interesting new post from Matt Wardman which I think may be of interest to readers of this blog. Read for yourselves:

I had an exchange with Tom Watson MP, who launched the debate that lead to eventual creation of the Principles for Participation Online for Civil Servants, before my interview with Radio Wales.

In my first post, I said:

I wonder if I can get a statement from Tom Watson by 5:00pm that the Principles for Online Participation apply in Wales as well as England?

This article is to look at Tom’s reply and to ask a couple of questions about the Welsh Assembly Government.

Reply from Tom Watson
I asked:
Tom - can you confirm that Civil Service Principles for Participation Online apply in Wales? CS Code does. I’m on Radio later about CS blogs 03:36 PM August 04, 2008

Tom Replied:
Hi Matt, for civil servants employed by the UK government, yes. People employed by the Assembly have a separate code. That’s devolution. 04:28 PM August 04, 2008

Reading the Runes

Thanks, Tom, for a quick reply (another use for Twitter). So the facts are as follows:
  1. The Welsh Assembly Government has adopted the UK Civil Service Code practically verbatim (Welsh Civil Service Code, UK Civil Service Code - both as at July 2008, both small PDF files). The “separate” code is roughly different in replacing “Westminster” with “Cardiff”.
  2. The Principles for Participation Online are short and sweet.
I went into these differences in detail here.

The question then becomes:
The Principles for Participation Online have now been out for some time (since around June 19th), so why can’t they just be adopted straight into the system in Wales - as is already the precedent with the substantive Civil Service Code?

Taking Action
If I was an employee of the W.A.G. I’d be asking management for confirmation that the Principles for Participation Online apply. Who knows, they might say “Yes“.

If I was a blogging AM, I’d be thinking about asking a few questions to clarify the situation, and hopefully precipitate some action.

If I was an employee of part of the UK-wide Civil Service in Wales (DVLA, maybe?), I’d be informing my management that they applied - perhaps via a Union (or my blog!) if I was worried of being accused of being a tall poppy.

The Most Important Point
The Principles for Online Participation could represent a good step forward - as they allow a lot of leeway for local decision making. But I still think this is mainly about a change to a culture of encouraging political debate rather than stifling it.

The most important point is the last one I mentioned in the Radio discussion - at a time when the rhetoric is calling for more political participation, why are bloggers (who are doing just that) still getting chopped off at the knee? View it from a slightly different angle, and political (or professional) blogs by Civil Servants could be a triumph of open government. It would certainly beat winning a jar of bath salts in a prize draw for voting.

Another good start would be to unblock ALL blogs in ALL Civil Service establishments. Regulate reading during working hours - fine, but at lunchtime? Come on, boys and girls … let’s have some changes.


Peter Black 7 August 2008 at 08:00  

I have referred the 'Principles on Particpation on-line' to the Chief Executive of the Assembly Parliamentary Service and she is looking to adapt them for use by her staff.

Miss Wagstaff 7 August 2008 at 12:48  

That's great news Peter. I think that Matt Wardman is also hoping that someone will be raising the issue with the Welsh Assembly Government but I can't see them taking a positive view of blogging and social networking in the present climate.

BBC UK Politics

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