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Wednesday, May 13

Did no one qualified want to be the government’s digital director?

The Cabinet Office announced this morning - via Twitter - that Whitehall insider Andrew Stott, Deputy Government Chief Information Officer, is the new £120k/yr Director of Digital Engagement.

This job excited much skepticism when announced at the beginning of the year. The Daily Mail accused them, via an obliging Tory backbencher, of:

A ‘grotesque waste of public money’ … a senior civil servant is to be paid up to £160,000 a year to encourage colleagues and Ministers to use social networking sites such as Facebook.

However many insiders were optimistic and Minister Tom Watson even invited comment on the job description - some of which was used.

Early reaction to the appintment has ranged from simply celebrating the existance of the post - one tweet from Sweden asking ‘why can’t we have one?’ - to ‘give the bloke a chance’ - Nick Booth asking Can I help Andrew Stott? - to much cynicism.

Insider Simon Dickson noted that this is:

An appointment from the government IT angle, rather than the social media angle.

And that:

The Cabinet Office press release plays up his Whitehall seniority and experience, but rather neglects the more ’social web’ aspects of the appointment.

He pointed out that the job description said the following:


  • Is a highly credible individual in digital communications
  • Has run a public facing web site of significant size, for example for a broadcaster or newspaper; or has been a leading figure in getting a large organisation to engage through digital channels.
  • Has innovated in web, beyond ‘web publishing’ and can demonstrate concrete personal examples of changing how organisations carry out their core functions using digital channels
  • Understands the technology and software that enable excellent web development, and has experience of advising on its procurement and deployment
  • Has experience of achieving change through influence, especially with policy and delivery officials
  • Has the authority to be credible with Ministers and senior officials


  • Has experience of the workings of Government

The job is the baby of Tom Watson, Minister for Digital Engagement at the Cabinet Office, and the press release focussed on the implementation of the government’s Power Of Information strategy [pdf] - another of Tom’s babies.

The job’s Twitter account starts off following only one person - Tom Watson.

So it’s not surprising that the PR quotes Watson saying:

I am delighted that Andrew Stott will be leading on these vital programmes for government. His personal involvement in the development of the strategy and his Whitehall experience will be complemented by the new external high level advisory panel which will succeed the Taskforce.

Together we will transform the way that government engages with citizens through the internet and free up government data, so that people can use public services more effectively.

Again this underlines his Whitehall experience rather than his web 2.0 experience.

However another insider confirmed to me privately that the real reason Stott may have the appointment is simply that strong candidates from outside Whitehall with web 2.0 experience didn’t apply.

This was also the suspicion of many twitterers

Certainly, why Andrew Stott? Does the UK lack an obvious choice? Or someone with at least a Facebook profile to take the job?

Very surprising choice - weren’t they looking for someone with web 2.0 credibility?

Jimmy Leach in the Independent also suggests that they failed to get the sort of applicant that the job description suggested.

The conversations I’d had had indicated a rather radical appointment. Not so, it seems. it’s gone to a safe pair of hands

Other insiders with recent experience of Stott suggest that he is a master of Whitehall blandspeak. Last year he produced the government’s much anticipated information and knowledge strategy.

The 33 page document took nearly two years to appear as the first output of the Knowledge Council, a senior Whitehall group established in April 2007 and chaired by Stott to provide ’strategic leadership’ on pan-government information and knowledge policy issues.

It contained such homilies as ‘Government needs information to function’ (p.15), ’There is much to be gained from sharing information – but there are also risks’ (p.7) and that departments must ensure information they hold ‘is used appropriately’ (p.6).

As usual it wanted to do it’s own thang and ‘explore the creation of a single ‘portal’ for government knowledge sharing’ (p.8) - despite them (plural) already existing. A good example would the extremely well received and independently organised BarCampUKGovweb - which the Knowledge Council seemed oblivious to.

Update: Another insider and former colleague of Stott Emma Mulqueeny has a different view on his appointment.

Update: Harry Metcalfe says that Stott writes XML.

Update: Other insiders writing positively about the appointment: Neil Williams; Andrew Lewin. Others weighing in: Demsoc; Davepress.


  1. First impression are definitely not will be interesting to see if he can win the social media community over.

  2. I met him at LCIO, seems useful to me. It was a silly job and only for two years. Anybody else would spend the time finding their way around the corridors of power for two years :-)


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