Cabinet Minister says Twitter and Facebook crucial to MPs

MP David Willetts, the Minister of State for University and Science, highlighted both the importance and the dangers of the social web when he spoke exclusively to Pocket-lint at an event in East London's Tech City.

Implying that some of his colleagues use services like Facebook and Twitter better than others, the Conservative MP for Havant said:

"Some MPs use it a lot. The danger is that you end up with a running commentary or sometimes the rather less important part of what an MP does, but it’s up to an individual to decide. Certainly we know that we’ve all got to keep up with the ways that people communicate these days."

Despite Willett's backing of the internet as a key tool of communication for politicians, however, his official blog has not been updated for over 18 months; something, he explained to Pocket-lint, which mirrors a politician's social networking dilemma.

"My blog is me as a minister, so I can’t just put on what I think at any given moment. That would be terrible. Anything I say is potentially a statement of Government policy. It’s harder to do as a minister and that is a problem."

With much of the success of Facebook and Twitter down to the open nature with which its users share, the Cabinet Minister's words do cast an awkward shadow over the way in which politicians currently interact online - to be seen to, rather than to communicate. All the same, Willett's words on boosting the UK's IT workforce, at the conference where he spoke to Pocket-lint, were well received by the crowd of teachers and pupils at the Central Foundation Girls' School in Bow.

As part of the Government's Tech City initiative, the Minister announced his backing for two schemes. The first, which has already been running a pilot at the school but is soon to spread over the country, is known as Apps for Good and is a program whereby secondary students are encouraged to create, develop and maintain apps for Facebook and mobile phone platforms.

The second is Behind the Screen - a pilot scheme over the next two terms for GCSE level students to get an education in how to write programs of their own rather than the straight IT literacy which is currently taught in schools.

"What we hope is that we can get a new GCSE course, that the awarding bodies will value, that isn’t just about making consumers of IT but generators of it."

Behind the Screen is backed by a group of companies including Microsoft, BT, IBM, Cisco and the National Grid and is hoped to help breed a group of graduates with the skills to write the software and algorithms that help power the world of technology.