Net abuse costs public sector

8 Mar 01
Staff across the public sector could be wasting thousands of working hours surfing the Internet for pornography, booking holidays or even managing their stocks and shares on-line, an exclusive survey from Public Finance suggests.

09 March 2001

Workers in more than half of Whitehall departments, local authorities and health authorities access improper or unauthorised material from the Internet at work.

The survey, part of an e-government supplement published with this week's issue, covers all aspects of the push to put public services on-line.

There have been a growing number of disciplinary actions involving Internet misuse in the public sector, but the survey suggests that these sporadic reports are only the tip of the iceberg.

Technology experts have criticised managers across the public and private sectors for failing to put adequate safeguards into place.

Bernard Diamant, deputy chief executive of the London Borough of Brent and chair of the Society of London IT Managers, said: 'There are serious concerns for all organisations regarding the clear instruction of staff on what they can or can't do or the introduction of software to limit Internet access.

'In a lot of cases, management haven't thought about things and they've just let people get on with it.'

In one of the best-known cases in the public sector, Haringey council dismissed seven employees in October 2000, following a four-month investigation into Internet misuse. The council also issued warnings to a further 13 members of staff.

The workers were sacked for gross misconduct after they were found to have downloaded pornographic material from the Internet. There is also currently a court case involving workers and Internet porn in a Midlands local authority.

The remainder of the survey, compiled in association with Zurich Management Services, makes sobering reading for everyone involved in the technological evolution of public services.

The survey suggests that respondents feel uninformed, underwhelmed and under funded by their more e-vangelical paymasters.

Although the majority (54.9%) felt that electronic access to services will play a part in improving community wellbeing, only 24.6% said staff in their organisation understood the potential of electronic communications.

Crucially, 55.9% of respondents felt the government had not given them adequate guidance and support.


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