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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 16:22 GMT
Big changes for government site
Screengrab of Directgov website, Cabinet Office
Directgov will become the UK government's main outlet
The UK government's main information website is getting a make-over.

Over the next few months, the Directgov website will replace the UK Online site as the starting point for citizens seeking information about government services.

Directgov hides the bewildering number of official websites behind themed sections that bring together information in one place.

A formal launch of the Directgov website is planned for late in 2004.

Park and ride

"It's designed for the way that people want to use our services, rather than navigate around the way government is run," said Bill Edwards, communications director at the e-Envoy's office.

He said research with users of the UK Online site showed that people preferred to see all the information in one place rather than have to look for it themselves.

UK Online was set up in 2001 as a portal to help people find out more about government services.

Andrew Pinder, E-Envoy (Cabinet Office)
We are really trying hard to be customer-focused. It's something that government has not done very well in the past
Andrew Pinder, e-Envoy
The e-Envoy, Andrew Pinder, likened the UK Online site to a travel agent that was suggesting destinations for a holiday.

By contrast, he said, Directgov was a purpose-built resort, though he admitted that not all of the rides were built yet.

Mr Pinder illustrated how the different sites handled queries using the example of a parent with a young disabled child trying to find out about sending their offspring to a mainstream school.

Using UK Online, a parent would be directed to all the sites of the government departments involved such as the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Mr Pinder said tracking down all relevant information can be tricky as the government maintains more than 2,500 websites, few of which share formatting or search terms.

By contrast, he said, on Directgov everything a parent needs to know will be collected on one page and individual government websites were invisible to the end user

"We are really trying hard to be customer-focused," he said. "It's something that government has not done very well in the past."

Decent traffic

The Directgov site was intended to be the starting point for casual and occasional users, said Mr Pinder.

External links will be available for those that want more detail. Specialists and professionals, such as accountants, were more likely to visit government websites directly.

He said that the UK Online website was getting decent traffic - 800,000 unique users in January - but said its arrangement of information around "life-episodes" such as getting married were not very popular.

"There's been relatively little take-up of the life-episodes," said Mr Pinder.

Information on the Directgov website has been put together by the departments involved. Typically, said Mr Pinder, one lead department co-ordinated the work of about nine others to prepare the information.

Directgov has gone live with three sections, for motorists, parents and the disabled, completed.

A further six sections are being drawn up and will be finished when the site gets a formal launch later this year.

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