Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Democracy in action - or just money to burn?

Well what a difference 50 miles or so of coastline makes: on the very day that Portsmouth City Council has banned its staff from using the social networking website Facebook, Brighton Council has launched a bid to hire someone and pay them almost £30K a year to do nothing else.

Well, not quite nothing: the lucky 'social media co-ordinator' will also have to post a 'tweet' or two on Twitter - and spot the next big thing in Web 2.0 technology when it comes along.

I'm a firm believer in the principal that councils should embrace new ways of communicating with citizens, both to broaden the reach of democratic accountability, and develop and enhance the skills of its staff.

Websites like 'fix my street' and 'they work for you' play an increasing role in ensuring elected representatives remain responsive to voters' concerns- and give good value for money.

Many councillors maintain blogs and keep residents' informed of their work and opinions using Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and so on.

But surely there is a happy medium of common sense when it comes to the way they are supported by staff - and frontline staff are encouraged to join them.

Banning Facebook rather than better defining how staff should use it at work is a little like banning reading because the odd Zest magazine makes it past security staff and into a pile of meeting agendas.

But going to the other extreme is equally as ridiculous: just weeks after bin men were told they faced pay cuts as the council just didn't have enough money in the pot it must really rankle to see this advert.

I'm hardly a technophobe - but I'll certainly be opposing such a shameful waste of taxpayers' cash if anyone ever seeks a lowly backbench councillor's view...

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