But e-Envoy Andrew Pinder admitted the challenge remains to improve the quality and uptake of online public services. He said a dramatic rethink of the government’s online services strategy is in the pipeline because of disappointing usage.
Speaking at the launch of ‘Get Started’, secretary of state for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt said the initiative was the biggest ever national campaign to get people online, and marked unprecedented collaboration between the government and both public and private sectors.
Over 8,000 online centres around the country will be offering free internet starter sessions until the end of June.
Technology companies including Microsoft, Packard Bell and Hewlett-Packard are showing their support for the initiative by donating equipment to be given away as prizes to participants in the taster sessions.
‘I would be surprised if there were any other country acting on this scale,’ Hewitt said.
Currently 56% of UK adults regularly use the internet. Pinder said:’We’ve done very well compared to other countries. The fact is that in the UK we’re way up there near the top. But a disappointing area for me is use of government services and I’d like to change that,’ he told VNU News Centre.
‘The challenge for me is getting government services used as fully as they should be, which is as much as things like online banking. Over the next two to three years we have to rethink the way we deliver government services online and redesign them so they’re built around the consumer.’
Pinder said moves to boost broadband coverage had progressed well. ‘Broadband is going like a steamtrain. It started very badly but we have almost reached BT’s two million target. And about 65 per cent of the population has [access to broadband] – we expect to reach 80 per cent in the next two to three years.
‘But we need to make sure content is attractive and we want prices to come down – they’re half what they were two years ago and I’d like to see them come down again,’ Pinder added.
Nick Barley, director of marketing for Microsoft UK, welcomed the initiative but said more needed to be done to boost internet use in the UK.
‘Government services haven’t been successful because we haven’t had ubiquitous access. But there’s other stuff we can do. In Sweden there are tax regimes to encourage individuals and businesses to invest in technology – I’d like to see something similar over here.’
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