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Why councils must ban the Daily Mail

(Cross-posted to Liberal Conspiracy)

Daily Mail - not at my expense"Town hall bans staff from using Facebook after they each waste 572 hours in ONE month," proclaimed a recent Daily Mail headline. This was an astonishing revelation: Portsmouth City Council workers were so addicted to the social networking website that they had broken the space-time continuum – compressing 19 hours of surfing into each working day.

Alas, the reality was more mundane. 572 hours was in fact the total usage for all 4,500 of Portsmouth's employees. Individual use was a less physics-defying seven minutes a month – or 14 seconds a day. And that was during the peak month; average daily use was 11 seconds. The Daily Mail subsequently amended its headline, though not before receiving a good deal of ridicule in its readers' comments. (The original headline still appears at the TaxPayers' Alliance website, whose prolific cut-and-pasting shows a cavalier disregard for such pillars of capitalism as intellectual property rights.)

But 11 seconds a day was still enough for Portsmouth bosses to ban Facebook - even though they conceded they could not say whether the offending surfing had occurred outside of lunch breaks. Those 11 seconds also prompted an agonisingly long Daily Mail polemic from Dragon's Den judge Theo Paphitis (now there's a man who would benefit from the 140-character discipline of Twitter), while the TaxPayers' Alliance's Mark Wallace said: "Even if everybody spends even a small amount of time on the site it is still paid for by the taxpayer. It is a huge amount of work time, and therefore money, being wasted."

Some commentators – Paul Evans and Mark Pack among them – reckoned this line of reasoning was as suspect as the Daily Mail's maths, but Wallace was having none of it. He told Mark Pack: "It’s easy to divide and divide a number until it seems insignificant (re your 11 seconds figure) but if you look at the actual cost this is the equivalent of two full time staff doing nothing all month! That’s clearly wasteful – even if the time wasted is paid on minimum wage that’s over £28,000 a year, which is quite a few people’s council tax."

But why stop there? Why not ban sneezing at work – or blinking? Those lost moments all add up.

Make sure you Holden to those stilettos, Amanda!Meanwhile, sensing the opportunity for a scandal in their own backyard, the sleuths at Peterborough Evening Telegraph used a Freedom of Information request to reveal the top 10 websites visited by Peterborough council staff during July.

Facebook scraped in – at bottom position – but the council defended its use, stating: “There are a range of legitimate reasons for staff to be accessing the internet during the working day. For example we are currently using Facebook and Bebo for our Safer Peterborough work to engage with a wider range of local people.” Staff had also been encouraged to back a Facebook campaign to bring the Radio 1 Big Weekend show to Peterborough.

But more shocking was the Daily Mail's appearance as seventh most visited site. What justification could there be for accessing articles such as "Kerry Katona replaces brown birthday puppy after deciding she didn't like its colour" and "Daddy's little girl: Suri Cruise falls asleep in her father's arms after an exhausting day on set" during working hours?

How many other council employees visit the Daily Mail website at taxpayers' expense? We don't know, but this is exactly the kind of thing that the Freedom of Information Act was established to expose, so we are currently making FoI requests to local authorities around Britain. In the meantime, just as Portsmouth didn't wait to establish whether workers had used Facebook outside of lunch breaks, we urge all councils to adopt the precautionary principle and banish the Daily Mail from their workplaces.

• Update: John Wood suggests a much more sensible approach to Facebook.

Posted by Other TPA at 12:23pm on 24 September 2009
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Yes, ban council workers accessing the Daily Mail @ work! Whilst I can think of a few good reasons to visit Facebook during the working day The Daily Mail seems to perform no socially useful function and its habitual misrepresentation of everything from legal and legitimate protest against the excesses of Govt and businesses to scientific research is both mischievously negative and socially damaging.

Posted by Mark Jordan at 01:05pm on 25 September 2009

Absolute genius.  I would love to see a Daily Mail headline: Council workers - stop wasting taxpayers’ money on reading the Daily Mail.  (but perhaps another newspaper would run the story?)

Love forward to the results of your FoI requests - do keep us posted.

Posted by Sarah at 01:15pm on 25 September 2009

We should ban beverages and lunch breaks. Think of all that time wasted chatting in front of the coffee/tea machine, or sustaining basic biological needs! I don’t think taxpayers should agree to that sort of nonsense.

Posted by Anon. at 01:48pm on 25 September 2009

Some time ago a friend of mine was employed by a council expressly to detect & monitor employees misusing access to the internet during office hours. When the council subsequently looked at how it could cut its budget & give the taxpayer better value for money it axed his job.

No doubt the Civil Service & councils today have clear policy guidlines on the issue of the private use of the internet during offie hours by their employees. It will be interesting to see whether information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act will reveal any abuse of policy. It is more likely that the response (at public expense) will be for the Civil Service &  councils to say what their policy is & that it is upheld by controls to ensure that it is staff conform to it..


Posted by Jim at 01:55pm on 25 September 2009

Perhaps by looking at things like “The Daily Mail”, workers in State Soviets such as “councils” will be able to get an insight into the real concerns and interests or ordinary, real-world-inhabiting, sovereign individuals. It might reasonably therefore be encouraged even more.

Moreover, use of “Face Book”, whatever that is, will cause them to engage with their friends and maybe get a life.

Posted by David Davis at 08:36pm on 27 October 2009

What is this facebook young people are always going on about? I’m not interested in anything which promotes cosmetics.

Posted by Trofim at 07:41pm on 29 October 2009

Good to see all my comrades in the public sector getting their knickers in a twist about the Daily Wail - lets all stick to the Grauniad.  Yours Dave Spart

Posted by David Higgins at 10:29am on 5 November 2009

Any luck with the FOI requests? I have half a mind to submit one myself, although my council is fairly lefty and probably has few Daily Mail readers on staff…

Posted by Brendan at 03:52pm on 6 November 2009

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