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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 17:13 GMT
E-government starts with a D
Downing St webcast BBC
What those No 10 broadcasts should look like
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

The UK Government is failing in its attempts to embrace the net to help it cut costs and serve citizens better.

Analysts at Forrester Research have given failing grades to many of the government departments that are supposedly leading efforts to put services in cyberspace.

A report prepared by Forrester says government departments currently lack the knowledge and ability to set up really innovative services.

And it states that this lack of awareness is putting at risk the 3.7bn in savings that the government is hoping to make by trading with suppliers and helping citizens over the net.

Electronic errors

The UK Government has an often-stated aim of putting all its services online by 2005. But the Forrester Research report casts serious doubt on the Blair administration's chances of achieving this goal.

Government Grades
Education and Employment - C
Trade and Industry - C
Inland Revenue - C
Culture, Media and Sport - C
Environment, Transport and Regions - C
Cabinet Office - D
International Development - D
Office of E-Envoy - D
Northern Ireland Civil Service - D
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - D
Crown Prosecution Service - E
Social Security - E
Customs and Excise - E
Office for National Statistics - E
Forrester based its conclusions on interviews with staff in 14 representative departments and ministries, and by canvassing opinions from government technology suppliers.

Across 12 categories, Forrester gave departments marks for their long-term vision, how likely they were to make the vision work, their understanding of what help they would need from commercial partners and what kind of savings they were expecting.

Sadly, Forrester gave most departments failing grades, with 9 out of the 14 interviewed getting a D or E for their electronic efforts.

Author of the report Caroline Sceats said many departments it questioned were long on vision but short on action. She said the successes trumpeted to date could evaporate as the revolutionary potential of e-commerce started to make itself felt throughout government. Overall, the UK Government net plans were given a D, or failing, grade. Only 13% of the companies Forrester questioned believed the 2005 deadline would be met.

"The ticks in the boxes tend to have been easy projects so far," she said. "The fundamental issues of changing the way that government deals and works are not progressing at the same pace."

Digital democracy

Some early successes are also being abandoned. Prime Minister Tony Blair used to do a weekly webcast from Downing Street. However, Mr Blair has not recorded one since late November last year.

Ms Sceats said that engaging citizens via the net was the easiest part of the government's plans. Much harder would be making changes to a sluggish Civil Service culture that cherished tradition rather than change.

But without far-reaching changes to the way that government issues tenders for business, engages suppliers and manages projects the much touted vision of digital democracy would fail to materialise, said Ms Sceats. Some projects still worked to 18-month buying cycles that are many times longer than those seen among electronic trading partners, she added.

The government is also making the task harder for itself by setting such a tight deadline. Ms Sceats said only the smallest, nimblest companies were considering change on the same scale as the government. Instead, large companies were moving slowly and getting the basics right - a strategy that Ms Sceats said the government would do well to emulate.

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See also:

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