Civil servants' web habits revealed

By Victoria King
Political reporter, BBC News

image captionThe list reveals the eclectic tastes and varied hobbies of civil servants

Belly dancing, Doctor Who and the Roman Empire are just some of the interests of civil servants as revealed by their web browsing habits.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has disclosed the 1,000 sites visited most often by staff while at work.

The BBC website came top, but employees are also spending time apparently shopping, gambling and house-hunting.

A DfT spokesman said personal internet use by staff should be restricted to official breaks.

The details were published in response to a Freedom of Information request by campaign group the TaxPayers' Alliance. They cover the period from January to May this year.

'Leave reality behind'

Many of the websites come as no surprise - Google is close to the top along with a number of newspapers and news blogs. The BBC homepage is number one with 7.4 million hits.

Facebook comes in at 85th, with more than 130,000 hits. Argos is the most regular online shopping destination, but John Lewis, Next and Debenhams feature too.

Plenty of sports fans appear to have been sneaking in a cheeky look or two at scores or fixtures - with goonerweb, chelseaafc and espncricinfo - a cricket stats website - all popular.

Some may also be having a flutter - hence the popularity of oddschecker and bet365 - which get 25,808 and 7,328 hits respectively.

But there are a number of unusual sites which reveal some more unexpected pastimes among civil servants.

Coming in at number 385 - with 27,634 hits - is - a website run by the Lorien Trust which organises fantasy role-play festivals.

It invites users to "leave reality behind" and "walk amongst goblins, elves and dwarves".

Even more popular, coming in at 115, is which gives frustrated sticklers for good manners a forum in which to vent. - a south London belly dancing studio - gets 3,170 hits, while a website for fans of the Roman Empire attracted nearly 100,000.

Some civil servants also seem to be interested in matters of glamour within Whitehall itself. - where users get to rank Members of Parliament in order of attractiveness - got 21,477 hits in the five-month period, making it the 465th most popular site.

Meal breaks

The TaxPayers' Alliance said it had contacted all government departments, but the DfT was the only one to provide the information.

Director Matthew Sinclair said: "While many staff work very hard, there have been enough anecdotal reports of time-wasters within the civil service that it is vital taxpayers are able to scrutinise how time they are paying for is spent.

"Other departments need to follow suit and publish this information. There is no practical obstacle to proper transparency."

The DfT was asked whether it could reveal the amount of time spent on each website, but it said it did not keep accurate figures.

A spokesman said: "Our internet access policy states that personal use of the internet by staff should be kept as short as possible and should not in any event exceed one hour each day made in their own time, e.g. meal breaks.

"We also have measures in place to prevent the inappropriate use of internet by staff, for example in relation to pornographic web sites.

"Personal use should not place excessive demands on ICT [information and communications technology] facilities and should not detract from staff's performance of their duties."

The DfT said two staff had been disciplined during 2009-10 due to "inappropriate internet usage".

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