Tony Blair’s new e-envoy Alex Allen made the confesson to MPs as he promised rapid moves to close the gap when he appeared before theHouse of Commons Select Committee on Public Accounts.
He told the all-party financial watchdog that he was setting tough new targets for all government departments to make services availableelectronically.
Quizzed by Labour MP and ex-Trade and Industry Minister Nigel Griffiths, he agreed that in 1995/96 Britain was considered to be aworld leader in putting services online.
Then he admitted:’Since then we have slipped behind a number of other countries. Australia is one of them.’
At a hearing of the all-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee examining ‘Government on the Web’, Allen said while he could not explain the problem, a great deal of effort was being put in to rectify the situation.
Allen said the government’s main website, open.gov, had been totally revamped, a new government porthole to access it and other services was to be launched, and work was under way to provide access through smart TVs and new generation mobile phones.
He said new targets for departments getting services available on the internet were being drawn up and a new Cabinet Office group of civil servants had been created to make sure civil servants met them.
Under pressure, he admitted to Griffiths that until this year no such monitors were in place.
Allen admitted that not all departments regularly updated their websites but said that the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions and the Foriegn Office revised theirs frequently every day.
He revealed that his and the Prime MInister’s target was to make all services provided by government available online from start to finish, and said all government memos to Ministers and senior civil servants were now circulated electronically.
He said that the government’s secure intranet had been devised with advice from the security services MI5, MI6, and GCHQ making it near impossible to hack into although he agreed there was a risk of human error in government releasing confidential information to the wider world.
Stefan Czerniawski, from the Department of Social Security, said problems with mainframe computers – outdated by one or two generations – were holding up putting benefit forms for completion and return on the internet but work was under way to achieve this.
He stressed no-one would be compelled to claim benefits on line and that all claimants would still be interviewed and advised in person.
The fact that a switch of two per cent of phone calls to the DSS and its agencies to on-line queries would save £7.7m million was not a factor in Ministers considerations, he added.
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