Setback for public sector bloggers

Paul Canning brings to our attention the case of a sacked blogger at the Welsh Assembly. As reported at WalesOnline:

AN Assembly Government civil servant who was sacked for running a political blog is taking his case to an Employment Tribunal.

Last night a former AM who himself is a regular blogger said he found the decision to dismiss the civil servant “heavy handed”.

The former Assembly Government employee, whose real name has not been disclosed but who ran a blog called Christopher Glamorganshire, provided what readers saw as a neutral running commentary on last year’s coalition negotiations involving Labour and Plaid Cymru.

An Assembly Government spokesman said: “This issue regards a former Welsh Assembly Government employee who was dismissed for activities related to the Glamorganshire Blog that contravened the Civil Service Code. The case went to the Civil Service Appeals Board, which we won, and it is listed for Employment Tribunal in Cardiff later this year.”

It is understood the elements of the Civil Service Code regarded by the Assembly Government as relevant to the case come under sections headed “integrity” and “rights and responsibilities”.

Obviously the material appeared on the blog before the recent guidance was developed and published, however it does show that the need for the guidance has been pressing for some time – it will be interesting if it wil be raised at the tribunal as being part of the blogger’s case. Let’s hope that sense prevails – this kind of heavy handed approach to bloggers doesn’t do anybody any good.

The issue that this case does raise, though, is that of how these guidelines can be applied to those not working in Whitehall. The argument will be made, I am sure, that they apply to anyone who also has to conform to the Civil Service Code, but what about all the public sector workers to whom this does not apply? I think there is a role for the developing Public Sector Webbies/Web Managers’ Group to come up with some guidance for anyone working in the public sector to work to – and to get some recognition from employers on the issue too.

5 thoughts on “Setback for public sector bloggers”

  1. I don’t know, Dave.

    This doesn’t seem to be a case of someone being punished for their online activities – it’s someone being punished for one of two things : political activities, or for disclosing information revealed during the course of their work.

    In fact, the full article on Paul’s blog notes that.

    I suspect every civil service in the western world has longstanding restrictions on how far civil servants can become involved in political activities – and most civil servants interpret those restrictions to cover public commentary on the political process and the workings of their legislature.

    This is an important point – both in maintaining the impartiality of the civil service and in determining how far civil servants will be willing to pursue transparent, honest and responsive activities online.

    Their natural caution will always slow their reaction online. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but a situation that will need to be examined and addressed.

  2. Comment cross-posted from my blog.

    Because it’s now a legal case, and because I couldn’t find any copies of it (maybe there’s responses to his content elsewhere?) I suspect that we won’t really know much until the Tribunal.

    What struck me though was his defence by a Conservative, that he wasn’t revealing anything and was cautious. The article didn’t suggest to me that he was behaving like Civil Serf. It struck me as a heavy handed response – no suggestion of warnings or guidance for example.

    Drawing some real lines, which the Tribunal may well do, between what’s permissible and what’s not, is very important for all government workers. Otherwise they are left with no political voice at all – I think this point gets lost in these discussions. I hope he’s being defended by his union – if he’s got one.

Comments are closed.