Whitehall is just too slow on the Web

16 Dec 99
The government's drive to deliver public services via the Internet is being undermined by Whitehall's 'risk-averse' culture and its inability to respond to change quickly, the first major investigation into e-government has found.

17 December 1999

Government on the Web, published by the National Audit Office, claims that in 1995/96, the UK was a pace-setter among European governments in developing a central government public access site. Since then, development of government websites has been 'patchy' and 'relatively slow', and the pages generally are 'hard to navigate'. It now lags behind the private sector and other countries.

Report author Professor Patrick Dunleavy said: 'It is a question of changing the culture in government organisations and that is going to be quite an uphill struggle.'

The report, commissioned from the London School of Economics, also blames the lack of 'market pressures' in the public sector for contributing to poor Internet performance.

Two years ago, the government pledged that a quarter of transactions between citizens and government would be delivered electronically by 2002, rising to 50% by 2005, and hitting 100% by 2008.

The report said these 'across the board targets' were easy to meet as they include telephone calls. Dunleavy said that the emphasis should instead be on individual departments and on separating web dealings from those by phone.

Big savings could be made from developing websites. If the Department of Social Security transformed just 2% of its 160 million annual calls into web enquiries, it would save £7.7m. Only 2% of DSS dealings are currently done electronically. The Home Office fares little better, with 6%.

The sites could also be improved if more staff had access to them. Until recently, for example, only eight of the Benefits Agency's 75,000 employees could visit the website.

Some departments and agencies have responded to the communication challenge. Companies House, the Land Registry and the Patent Office are among those praised.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the government accepted that there were cultural failings across Whitehall. But he added that the appointment of an e-envoy, Alex Allan, and the setting-up of an eight-strong New Media Team would address this issue. 'It will drive up standards across government,' he said.


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