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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Government 'must revamp websites'

Government websites must improve, say MPs
The UK Government is being urged to revamp its websites urgently, as some look "disconnected" and are "hard to navigate".

Many sites had failed to achieve the substantial cost-savings possible, ministers were warned.

Government on the web has the potential to revolutionise the relationship between the citizen and the state

MP David Davis
But putting more services online and in an easy-to-access form could transform the quality of government and save a "significant" amount of money, said a committee of MPs.

The damning verdict comes from the Commons Public Accounts Committee, in a report called Government On The Web.

The urgency of its message was underlined by a separate report, which said the UK could have the most advanced electronic government in the world.

Audit group Deloitte Research said by the end of 2002, senior executives in UK government agencies expect 41% of clients to use the internet as their main point of contact.

This compared to only 31% in the USA.

Deloitte said if internet use in the UK expands as predicted, more and more people would use it to contact departments and agencies.

Transformation predicted

But the Public Accounts Committee also stressed the huge potential of the internet, which, it said, allowed officials to interact with citizens "more quickly and cheaply".

Committee chairman David Davis said: "Government on the web has the potential to revolutionise the relationship between the citizen and the state.

"It could lead to a transformation in the quality of public services as well as a significant reduction in cost to the taxpayer."

But he added: "Progress across government towards fully realising these potential benefits has been rather hit-and-miss, and this report highlights an urgent need for concerted action to improve the consistency and quality of websites."

The cross-party report said tax returns could be filed online and driving licences and passports applied for electronically.

'Digital divide' warning

It said that if 2% of people who rang social security officials every year looked up information on the net instead, ministers would save 7.7m a year.

However, the quality of government websites varied significantly, with some "looking disconnected and relatively hard to navigate".

The report warned: "Citizens and business will only be encouraged to use departments' and agencies' websites if they find them easy to access, the information is up to date, accurate and reliable and the sites are easy to navigate."

Departments and agencies should follow Cabinet Office guidelines and design their sites "with the needs of the end users very much in mind," the report said.

However, the MPs warned against a "digital divide" between those with access to technology and those without.

Whitehall must be careful to avoid excluding the majority of people without computers or those who prefer dealing with officials face-to-face, the report said.

'All mouth, no delivery'

It said: "The Cabinet Office and departments need to remain alert to this risk so that some citizens do not become disadvantaged in their dealings with government."

The Deloitte researchers found that at present, only 8% of people use the internet to access government services.

Electronic self-service options are currently in place or being implemented in 60% of UK Government agencies, compared with 53% in other leading web-using nations.

Conservatives accused the government of failing to make the most of technological advances.

Shadow cabinet office minister Andrew Lansley said: "So far this government has been all mouth on technology and no delivery on the internet. It is time to see Britain's Government in a leading position on technology as it was just four years ago."

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