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Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 13:58 GMT
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The government has warmed to the web

The government has promised to transform the way it provides information on the internet and make sure both the blind and socially excluded can also access it.

Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney promised to be judged on results and admitted online opportunities had been missed in the past.

He set out guidelines instructing departments to prove their "openness and responsiveness" through the information provided on the net, which would be reviewed early in 2000.

Ian McCartney: "If you have a view on government websites, we want to hear from you"
"By March next year, I will personally expect us to have implemented the guidelines here. I'll come back in March and tell you what we've been able to do - and that's just before the reshuffle."

Mr McCartney later told BBC News Online his surprise announcement of a reshuffle early in the year had been a "joke".

But he stuck by his commitment to shaking up online government within months.

"You can judge us on it know," he said. "You can look at these websites now. In March 2000, we'll upgrade those based on our experiences - so if there is anybody out there who goes on to government websites and thinks they can be improved, we want to hear from them."

Mr McCartney also revealed the government's newly-appointed "e-envoy" Alex Allan would formally start work in January.

Another key plank of the proposals is to guarantee all government websites can be accessed by the blind using voice technology.

Alex Allan: The government's "e-envoy"
A social exclusion programme also promises to provide 100,000 computers freely available to people who would otherwise not be able to access the internet and 1,000 learning centres by the end of 2001.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind access to digital information campaigns manager, Julie Howell, welcomed the emphasis in helping everyone to get access to the net.

"If you lost your sight would you lose interest in the internet? Probably not," she said.

"We hope these guidelines for government websites will be implemented quickly so that blind and partially sighted people can get equal access to information, and fully participate in the democratic process."

The Cabinet Office minister refused to put a figure on the new investment in improving access to online public services and information.

"It's a moving feast, isn't it?" he said. "Across the board there's huge long-term investment programmes there."

The announcement on Thursday follows the launch of NHS Direct Online earlier this week, which lets web users check medical symptoms and receive advice and boasted one and a half million hits in its first day of existence.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has also revealed he has started to use the internet at home and believes it will change the way people behave socially, as well as transform business dealings.

Mr McCartney denied the target of providing100% of public services online by the end of 2008 displayed a lack of ambition, given the speed of technological advances.

"It is a long time in the sense of a click of a switch, but you are talking about every government service," he said.

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See also:
06 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Blair finds 'different world' online
04 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
The e-minister answers your questions
29 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Blair has first internet lesson
25 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Blair gets online for e-week

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