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08 Apr 2011

The Government is to hire a "Twitter Tsar" on an annual salary of £142,000, making the successful candidate one of the best paid civil servants in Whitehall.

The job vacancy, which appropriately was posted on the website of the Civil Service, is for "the new and exciting role of Executive Director of Digital".

The salary is just under David Cameron's annual pay of £142,500 last year.

Much of the job will involve ensuring any Government initiative is easily and clearly understood by the public when they search for information on the internet. However, the job description lacked a certain amount of clarity, using a combination of civil servant parlance and technology jargon.

"Sitting at the heart of the government's radical public service reform agenda this will be a rewarding role with a great deal of public visibility," it said.

"The successful candidate will have proven credibility in transformation through the delivery of digital channels and engagement together with a track record of leading digitally enabled change at a strategic level, in a large federated organisation with complex delivery chains."

The announcement immediately attracted wry criticism on the internet as people joked whether the candidates should apply for the job in fewer than 140 characters – a reference to the maximum length allowed when posting messages on Twitter. Many wags also pointed out the irony that the job specifications stated: "Language skills: none".

This is not the first time that the Cabinet Office has advertised for a "Director for Digital". Its first foray into hiring a social media champion was when it took on Andrew Stott, the original "Twitter Tsar", in 2009, on an advertised salary of £160,000, though he in in fact was only paid £115,000.

The Government made clear that the new job will not only take on far bigger responsibilities, but is also advertised at a lower rate. "Twitter will be a tiny part of the job," said a Cabinet Office insider. “To call this role a Twitter Tsar is like calling Richard Branson a flight steward.”

Crucially, it will take on the both the role of Mr Stott, who has now retired, as well as running Directgov – a website that supplies consumers with information about tax and benefits, as well as providing details of consumers' rights when it comes to dealing with utility companies, landlords or local councils.

Martha Lane-Fox, the entrepreneur and the Government's unpaid digital adviser, was instrumental in setting up this latest post and she took to Twitter to say that calling it a "Twitter Tsar" was "mean" and misleading, pointing out that it was essential the government ran a cheap, simple website to help citizens.

She undertook a review of Directgov last year and recommended that the Government's 750 websites should be radically simplified and brought under one umbrella site. Many consumers feel frustrated that if, for instance, they change their residential address on a the pensions website, other services – such as the driving licence agency – do not pick up this detail, forcing the consumer to enter their change of address into a separate website for their driving licence.

Last year the Coalition said it wanted to axe 75 per cent of all Government websites, cutting annual web spending from £560 million to £200 million. Ms Lane Fox said this figure could fall to less than £100 million a year.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: “The Executive Director of Digital, based in the Cabinet Office, is a major cross-Government role that will have responsibility for overseeing and improving all of the Government’s online presence and extending the number of public services available online.

“The new role combines the work of the Chief Executive of Directgov (Jayne Nickalls) and part of the work of the Director for Digital Engagement and Transparency (Andrew Stott), and will bring considerable savings to the taxpayer. The Executive Director will be responsible for over 100 staff and for saving at least £6 million from Directgov’s annual budget.”


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