Whitehall focus Full e-government not ready by 2005

16 Dec 04
The government is nowhere near meeting its target of offering all Whitehall services on-line by 2005, its own figures have revealed.

17 December 2004

The government is nowhere near meeting its target of offering all Whitehall services on-line by 2005, its own figures have revealed.

Statistics published by the Cabinet Office on December 13 show that just 75% of central government services are available electronically.

This is despite the pledge made by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2000 that 100% of services offered to citizens and businesses would be e-enabled by 2005.

The Cabinet Office progress report goes on to say that 96% of government services will be on-line by the end of 2005. It says that of the 657 services that have been identified as suitable for electronic delivery, 26 will not be fully e-enabled by the end of 2005.

Some are being delayed for 'policy reasons', while others are being introduced using pilot projects and are being phased in to 'mitigate project risk'.

A few services will not be available on-line until major reform programmes have been completed. 'Delivery ahead of the reforms would require disproportionate expenditure for minimal gain,' it says.

The progress report cites examples of areas where e-government has been successfully implemented. In 2004, 65% of applicants to university submitted their applications electronically. Seventy-nine per cent of vehicle registrations were completed on-line during the same period.

Meanwhile, the government's flagship website Directgov has an 80% approval rating among users.

At the start of last year the e-government target was downgraded to an 'aspiration' as it became increasingly clear that it would not be met.

The report says that, although progress against the 2005 deadline will continue to be measured, the focus is 'shifting away from enforcing service roll-out, towards new priorities of supporting departments'.

Instead, the Cabinet Office's e-Government Unit will concentrate on helping departments use electronic services to deliver the Gershon efficiency agenda, and provide 'customer-centric' services that the public actually wants to use.

Ian Watmore, who replaced Andrew Pinder as Whitehall's e-supremo earlier this year and heads the eGU, said departments had 'responded well' to the prime minister's original challenge.

'Over the next few years, the focus will be to improve take-up of these government services, particularly those that really touch people's lives,' he added.

EDS admits to causing DWP computer crash

One of Whitehall's largest IT contractors has admitted it was responsible for a massive computer failure at the Department for Work and Pensions last month.

EDS has submitted a preliminary report on the incident to the DWP. The failure left 40,000 staff unable to access core IT systems between November 22 and 26.

It reveals that an EDS staff member applied a software upgrade to computers that were not intended to receive it, causing the disruption.

EDS provides a wide range of IT systems to the DWP, managing more than £2bn in payments to benefits claimants each week. The company said it has taken the incident 'very seriously'.

The service disruption did not affect benefit systems or the payment of pensions and benefits, it added.

'Several steps have already been taken to avoid recurrence of this situation, including… increased checks by EDS's senior engineers and management staff when such upgrades are implemented,' a statement added.

EDS is the DWP's major IT partner. It provides systems for processing pensions and benefits, managing pensions credits, helping job seekers at JobcentrePlus facilities and through the use of the Internet and kiosks, delivering services to the disabled and their carers, and assisting the Child Support Agency.

In total, this means that EDS processes more than 100 million transactions every week.

The four-day blackout was the latest in a series of computer system problems at the DWP.

The Child Support Agency has been struggling with a £400m system from EDS that has made payments to only one in eight single parents awaiting them.

NI civil service prepares to sell off property

Northern Ireland's £280m civil service property portfolio looks set to be sold and selectively leased back under plans announced by the province's finance minister, Ian Pearson.

The minister said that a market review would be conducted to determine whether a PFI building transfer contract should be entered into.

Pearson said that the proposals would accompany other efficiency measures being adopted to make Northern Ireland's civil service more cost-effective. He expected the moves to produce a 'flexible, modern office environment'. Pilot schemes have already begun.

About half of the civil service's existing 70 or so buildings in Greater Belfast are expected to be sold over the next seven years. Design changes will lead to a 30% reduction in office space requirement, says the Strategic Investment Board, the government agency advising Northern Ireland departments on contracts.

The civil service is also being advised by consultancy Deloitte's on the conduct of the review.


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