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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March, 2005, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Net can transform public services
Close-up of telephone
Net catching up with phone as preferred way to communicate
One-third of people would be happy to interact with government via a website, a survey for The Work Foundation found.

The UK study also established that an equal number of people wanted to communicate with government agencies online as by phone or in person.

Nearly half would like to see more services available online - but 95% said that when they complained they would still prefer to do it in person.

The British government is committed to getting most of its services online.

Not a panacea

The study compared the attitudes of government staff and the public to technology, and found that there was a danger that the two had differing expectations of what online services would deliver.

While staff saw personalised services as the goal for making services more customer-focused, the public saw choice as being more important.

33% wanted to access government services via the web
48% wanted more government services online
More than 75% wanted access to services outside of normal working hours
63% thought the net made it easier to find out about government services
How technology projects are being used in government departments is back on the agenda following the Gershon review, which has sought to identify efficiencies in Britain's civil service worth billions of pounds.

But using technology as a route to save large sums of money had its risks, said Alexandra Jones, one of report's authors and senior researcher at The Work Foundation.

"Gershon has a tendency to over-rely on ICT as a panacea," she said.

The internet has become a crucial tool in government and the need for online communication with citizens is highlighted in The Work Foundation report.

More than three-quarters wanted to access services outside of normal working hours and 63% thought the net made it easier to find out about government services.

Despite this, accessing government services online remains something only a minority of the population has tried, although the report suggests the appeal could be growing.

Lack of communication

One-third chose net access, compared with one-third the telephone and one-third face-to-face interviews as their preferred method of communicating with government - an even split between the three.

With such a vast amount of government information and, increasingly, transactions available online, there is a risk that services will go unnoticed, the report found.

For example, expectations for applications to the Criminal Records Bureau - necessary when people apply for a job that requires a check of a criminal record - were high when the website launched.

It was thought that up to 80% of applications would be made online but the reality was that only 20% were made using the website.

"This could be down to a lack of communication about the online option," said Ms Jones.

It was crucial the right information went online and that websites were service-driven rather than tech-driven, she added.

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