Get weaving on the web, warn MPs

15 Jun 00
Tony Blair's vision of electronic services for all citizens is a long way from becoming reality, with government websites 'hit and miss', hard to navigate and 'disconnected', MPs have warned.

16 June 2000

Progress on the web has become so slow that the government now lags behind its European counterparts and needs to make urgent progress if it is to realise the full benefits of the Internet, the Public Accounts Committee has said.

The MPs found that Whitehall departments had failed to achieve the potential cost savings of web services. They estimate that the Department of Social Security could save £7.7m annually if just 2% of its 160 million phone inquiries were switched to people looking up information on the web.

But the department is between two and five years away from being able to offer a universal web service and its current computer systems are too old for Internet technology.

In a separate report, consultancy Deloitte & Touche also urged the government to revamp its web services and predicts that Britain could become a world leader in web usage if it could meet surging consumer demand.

By the end of 2002, senior civil servants expect 41% of consumers to use the Internet to access government services, compared to only 31% in the US. But, as only 8% of people currently use government websites, it appears Whitehall has some serious work ahead.

The PAC report says web technology could transform public services with civil servants able to interact with citizens 'more quickly and cheaply'. It urges ministers to build electronic delivery targets into the new Public Service Agreements, due to be drawn up shortly.

'Government on the web has the potential to revolutionise the relationship between the citizen and the state,' said PAC chair David Davis. 'It could lead to a transformation in the quality of public services as well as a significant reduction in cost to the taxpayer.

'Public services should always strive to be at the forefront in securing the benefit of new technology.'

The committee recommends a programme of training, as web-literate civil servants are 'rare'. But it warns ministers to keep an eye on the progress of Internet services as they will 'have an impact' on staffing needs. The government cannot afford to miss out on available cost savings, the MPs state.


Did you enjoy this article?