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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 13:46 GMT
Government sites 'need overhaul'
Number 10 website
Tony Blair's own website comes in for fierce criticism
UK Government websites are difficult to navigate, full of indecipherable language and in need of a drastic overhaul, says an independent report.

The study, commissioned by the website design agency Interactive Bureau, looked at 20 of the government's flagship websites.

It urged the government to pause its 5bn investment in electronic services while it puts right existing faults with its websites.

It will be a further blow for the government which is determined to have all its services online by 2005 and has faced a pretty much constant barrage of criticism in its efforts to achieve this goal.

Thorough overhaul

How the sites scored
Department for Education - 78.5%
Equal Opportunities Commission - 69.5%
Department of Health - 65%
Department for Culture, Media and Sport - 48.5%
Department for Environment - 46.25%
Number 10 - 40.75%
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency - 40%
The survey found that three-quarters of the top 20 sites were in need of immediate attention and rated the prime minister's own site as one of the worst.

"A mess, in need of a thorough overhaul from top to bottom," was the conclusion of the report.

"What is the point of the prime minister - the prime mover in bringing the government to the people via the web - having a site which announces the opportunity for foreign journalists to ask him questions, yet gives no opportunity for members of the British public to do so?" the report asked.

The site scored 40% and was rated 19th out of the 20 websites tested.

"It scores so badly because its navigation is inept, because of a lack of attention to detail, because it is poorly maintained," read the report.

When Income Support or income-based Job Seekers allowance (JSA) (and in the case of the PWC, WFTC or DPTC) is paid to a parent or to someone else for that parent, their assessable income will be taken to be nil

Extract from Child Support Agency website
And there were other problems too.

"The coding of the site was of a poor standard, whole sections of it are inappropriately named, it had a slow loading speed, it does not work properly with some browsers and there is no provision for members of the public to contact either the prime minister or his office," said the study.

Other sites, such as the Child Support Agency, were criticised because of their heavy reliance on bureaucratic language.

"Why spend all that money with the aim of bringing the government closer to the people if the end result is the same forbidding 'closed' mentality of officialdom writ larger than ever before?" asked the report.

Tiny audience

It accused sites such as HM Custom and Excise of undue suspicion towards e-mail enquiries.

"What is the point in replying to an e-mail from a member of the public merely seeking to know what the rules were [about bringing cigarettes into the UK], by saying that they would not tell him, unless he first gave them his name and address?" it asked.

Common problems identified
Lack of basic services and information
Failure to respond to e-mail requests
Poor or inconsistent design
Inadequate navigation
Slow load speeds
Technical errors
The fundamental problem with e-government so far, the report concluded, is that too few people understand that creating a website needs to be a mixture of user-friendly design, technology to make it workable and appropriate communication with users.

It is estimated that only around 11% of the population currently communicate with the government online.

Following its own survey of government websites, the head of the National Audit Office, Sir John Bourne, said that there was much to do to realise the full potential of net technology.

Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts Edward Leigh MP has described flagship website UK Online as poorly designed and hard to use.

Private sector government partners such as Novell have also cast doubt on how realistic government ambitions for e-services are.

See also:

28 Aug 02 | Politics
08 Aug 02 | Technology
07 Jun 02 | Technology
03 May 02 | Science/Nature
21 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
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