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EDITIONS
 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 11:52 GMT
Official websites are 'online Domes'
Downing Street website
The research sampled 600 internet users
UK Government websites will become "online Millennium Domes with just as few visitors" if urgent action is not taken, researchers have warned.

Fewer than one in 20 internet users regularly use government websites to access public services, a survey has found.

Inside the Millennium Dome
Websites could have "just as few visitors" as the Dome
Less than a third of the population has even visited one of the 3000 government websites, although nearly two thirds of us now have internet access.

The research by public sector IT consultants Hedra comes weeks after an influential group of MPs said government sites needed to be more accessible and convenient to members of the public.

The government allocated 1bn to try to get all public services - which can be transacted electronically - available online for citizens and businesses by 2005.

More than 800 central and local public sector bodies with over 3,000 websites provide information about their roles and responsibilities.

'Online Millennium Domes'

But without urgent action, the money - including a further 5bn earmarked for e-enablement - could go to waste, according to Hedra, whose survey sampled 600 internet users.

The government needs to look carefully at ways of driving more traffic to its sites, such as discounts on taxes

Stuart James
Hedra
"In particular, the government's current approach has not yet reached key socially excluded groups, who are among the greatest users of government services such as social security benefits and pensions," the report said.

Not a single respondent over 65 or from social groups DE told researchers they regularly used the internet to access government services.

Hedra warned that government websites could turn out to be a series of "online Millennium Domes with just as few visitors" unless they were better designed and financial incentives introduced immediately to increase traffic substantially.

Chairman Stuart James said: "The government needs to look carefully at ways of driving more traffic to its sites, such as discounts on taxes, like those already available to those who pay council tax by direct debit."

'Out of date'

Earlier this month the House of Commons public accounts committee found that information on some government sites - including the Downing Street website - was out of date or inaccurate.

The office of the e-envoy - the man in charge of getting government services on the net - had made "limited progress" in reporting departments' progress in putting services online, the committee said.

The MPs found that the public were "reluctant" to use some services like being able to submit tax returns to the Customs and Excise site - only 2,500 out of 1.65m VAT registered traders had signed up to do so.

The MPs found the Downing Street website did not have a complete up to date list of ministers.

"On 12 June, the UK online site had as the latest 'hot topic' information on the Budget, nearly two months after the event," they said.

See also:

13 Dec 02 | Politics
19 Nov 02 | Technology
07 Jun 02 | Technology
06 May 02 | Wales
04 Apr 02 | Politics
05 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
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