Online snub to Civil Service

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The Independent Online

The Sir Humphreys at the Department of Trade and Industry have got the hump with one of its ministers.

Patricia Hewitt, the mercurial minister for e-commerce, has set up an internet chatroom at the House of Commons, designed to promote discussions between government departments on internet policies.

The initiative is understood to have been an overnight success, with ministers merrily chatting away about hi-tech issues such as broadband technology and WAP-enabled phones.

But there is a door policy on access to the site - you have to be a middle- or high-ranking minister or a lord to use it. Strictly no government officials allowed.

Members of the Civil Service are, naturally, a little irked by this.

One well-placed source commented: "They are none too happy because Patricia is merrily chatting away with her colleagues at other departments, working out ways of implementing her policies, while the civil servants are firmly out of the loop. They have no idea what is being discussed."

But Ms Hewitt, who was formerly director of research at Andersen Consulting, is unlikely to be deterred by the thought of upsetting a few precious civil servants.

Having taken on the e-commerce brief nine months ago, she is believed to have so impressed Prime Minister Tony Blair with her efficient handling of the e-brief that she has now been tipped for a Cabinet promotion.

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