Well…Puffles did warn them. [Update: And through interaction using social media, we came up with a suitable compromise - see end]
Apologies for the slightly blurred screenshot.
This is a screenshot of the Twitter account @CCC_Cabinet. On the face of it in italics it says “Cabinet Members on Cambridgeshire County Council” – with the “Cambs County Cabinet” in bold. And it makes me feel uncomfortable.
I’m not accusing Conservatives behind this account of anything sinister or underhand. It’s far more likely that it’s something that sounded like a good idea at the time but perhaps was not thought through. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
The issues I have with this branding are as follows:
In our public services there are two ‘leadership’ strands: The political and the official. You have an elected staff – made of elected persons a selection of whom (depending on the view of the parties taking office) will take executive portfolios. You then have the permanent staff which serve both to deliver the policies and services on behalf of the elected staff, and as a safeguard against wrongdoing.
What individual councillors – and even groups of councillors do in the grand scheme of things is up to them. What differentiates this one is it’s masquerading as a public institution – the executive decision-making body of a public institution – Cambridgeshire County Council. My understanding is that whenever decisions are made by said executive body, those decisions are communicated through ‘official channels’ – in this case Cambridgeshire County Council – which already has its own Twitter account – @CambsCC. Meetings and decisions of executive decision-making bodies are (or should be) properly recorded and minuted – not least for Freedom of Information and National Archive reasons.
The website that CCC_Cabinet links to is “Cambridgeshire County Council Conservatives & Friends” - a gathering of people separate to the executive decision making body that is the Cabinet of Cambridgeshire County Council. As I said before, what individuals – or even groups of individuals choose to do politically is up to them. But the impression that this Twitter account gives is that it is an official channel of communications for the executive decision-making body of a public institution. It is not. If it is the Twitter account of Cambridgeshire Conservatives, that’s fine – but it needs to be more explicit. If I were a non-executive Conservative county councillor, I might feel a little put out that this Twitter account was branded in the way that it is. Is it only the views and opinions – or posts – from executive councillors as a group? Why do the others seem to be excluded? If it is the tweets from “Cambridgeshire Conservative County Councillors” as a political group, no problem. They are separate from the decision-making function of an executive body of a public organisation.
It may sound like a storm in a teacup, and to most people it probably is. They’ve got more important things to worry about. It’s not as if Conservative County Councillors have got much to worry about – or a need to resort to this sort of branding. They’ve had safe-as-houses majorities on Cambridgeshire County Council for as long as I can remember. Why do they need to resort to setting up a Twitter account that appears to be something it is not?
Simply change the branding to what it is. Leaving it as it is will only cause confusion – should people tweet to @CambsCC or @CCC_Cabinet? The latter sounds like it is more senior and that more will get done from it. Will it lead to people asking about bin collections? Or is that the wrong council? (Where I live we have 2 councils – district and shire. Some parts of the county have three – parish/town councils too).
If it were another political party doing the same thing, I’d have written in similar terms. The issue is not the political party. So whoever is behind the @CCC_Cabinet account, please rename it.
UPDATE [about an hour after this blogpost was first posted!]:
I could run with a story along the lines of:
“MAGIC DRAGON BRINGS DOWN TOP TORY TWITTER ACCOUNT!”
…but I’ll leave that to the chaps at Shallot Cambridge!
A few of us raised the issue of the branding on Twitter. Through Puffles I gave the account over the weekend to get things changed before I blogged about it. Nothing doing, so I blogged, explaining in detail what the issue was.
Not everyone agreed with me – which is fine. If everyone agreed with each other the world would be a boring place. What I did find out from Councillor Steve Tierney was what the thinking behind the account was. As one of the people who had an issue with the original branding, I proposed wording that would clear things up – “A Twitter Feed for Conservative Cabinet Members on Cambridgeshire County Council”. To his credit, Cllr Tierney went with that wording and updated the account.
It now reads much more clearly – this is a feed for a given political party, and specific councillors within them. There is now clear separation between the councillors as individuals and The Council as an institution. It also gives more freedom for the councillors to sink their teeth into party political issues – hopefully making local politics that little bit more exciting. After all, I’ve gone on record as saying I want local elections to be exactly this!