UK government accelerates online push

The latest drive to offer online services to businesses and individuals by the 2005 date, initiated by Prime Minister Tony Blair, matches his commitment to ensuring that everyone will have internet access by 2005.

In a statement released today Blair said: “I want the UK to be the world’s leading internet economy.

Businesses and individuals across Britain are responding to this challenge, getting the UK online. I am determined that the government should play its part, so I am bringing forward our target for getting all government services online, from 2008 to 2005.”

“This will mean that people and businesses will be able to access government services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

He admitted that it is a challenging target which will require more joined-up working between departments, less reliance on paper trails and the development of new ways of working. “But it is [a target] we have to meet if our UK online strategy is to succeed,” he said.

Shadow technology minister Alan Duncan described the new target as “irrelevant”. “What we want is definite action. This government has made a mess of e-government,” he told

Duncan said the government has failed to computerise several projects, such as the Passport Service, and criticised its NHSDirect scheme. “It must not be allowed to replace proper medical care,” he said.

Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney said the government has been making good progress. “We offer online advice in areas such as health, overseas travel and consumer protection, and from next week self-assessment tax returns can be filed over the internet and payments made electronically,” he said.

Businesses can already make online returns to Companies House, and from next year they will be able to make VAT returns online. The Small Businesses Service will next week launch a pilot website offering small and medium-sized companies tailored advice based on their size, location and sector.

Duncan welcomed the move to speed up the passage of tax returns online, but warned: “The government is creating an e-divide.

The discount for doing things such as tax returns online is unfair on sections of society like the elderly who are not wired in the same way. Effectively, they are giving a £10 tax rebate for submitting returns electronically.”

The government’s strategy for achieving its targets will be detailed in a report, called ‘E-Government’, which is due to be published on Monday. “An important part of this drive will be the new personalised gateway to government online services, UK Online, which we plan to launch in July,” said McCartney.

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