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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 18:39 GMT
Electronic government slow to take off
A man preuses a card at a job centre
Soon you could be browsing at the electronic job centre
The UK Government has given itself high marks for its efforts to turn Britain into a nation of e-literates who are happy to use the net to manage their lives.

The second annual report from the government's e-Envoy said it was making good progress towards putting all government services online.

The report claimed particular successes in creating training centres that show citizens the benefits of online life, and the numbers of small businesses turning to the net to streamline their working methods.

However, other reports cast doubt on government claims and imply that it still has a long way to go if it is to meet its targets by the due date.

Cheap net access

UK Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt declared herself "delighted" with the progress recorded in the annual report.

It claims that regular net use is higher in the UK than in any other continental nation, and that more than 1.9 million small businesses are starting to deal with the government electronically rather than continue with old-fashioned paper forms.

British passport
Now you can apply for a passport form online
The report also mentions some of the other initiatives that the UK is taking to get people using the net. Already, 2000 online centres have been established up and down the country to offer cheap net access and train citizens how to get the best out of the net.

The government eventually expects to establish 6,000 of these UK Online centres.

The report also notes that greater use is being made of the government gateway - a website allied to the UK Online portal but through which electronic transactions are funnelled.

E.Envoy Andrew Pinder said the Gateway had 178,000 registered users and more than 10,000 businesses used it every day. He said the Gateway was also finding a role as a model for the rest of the world.

League table

But despite the laudatory language of the annual report, other surveys show that the UK is still lagging behind other European nations in the race to adopt electronic ways of governing.

According to a study carried out for the European Commission, Finland, Denmark, Portugal and Spain have the most sophisticated e-government plans and initiatives.

Patricia Hewitt, Trade and Industry Secretary
Hewitt: Delighted with government e-progress
The study looked at 17 European nations and measured which of 20 basic services were available electronically, as well as how easy the services were to use.

Many nations let businesses file tax returns online, but far fewer have the ability to deal with social security payments via the web.

Britain was placed eighth in the list. A UK Government Online study carried out earlier this year by market researchers Taylor Nelson Sofres put the UK a long way behind its rivals.

The study put the UK 19th out of 27 in terms of the number of people using government services electronically. The survey said that barely 11% of British citizens had gone online to contact government or to use its services.

See also:

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E-government starts with a D
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French bureaucracy takes online leap
03 Dec 01 | Business
UK to speed up broadband
15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Taking the web to the people
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