Within Whitehall, it will bring about some of most significant change to the way civil servants work. It will also bring about a fundamental change in the way government interacts with citizens. But the prize is big.
We are investing billions in public services – with that opportunity comes a responsibility for all of us in the public sector to make sure the money is used as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Electronic delivery of services will be the key. It offers real potential not just to save money, but improve the services we provide to the citizens by making them more convenient and accessible.
The last few months have really seen government move into the fast-lane of the information super-highway.
On 11 September, the prime minister launched UK online. This sets out a dynamic way forward, backed up by #1bn funding, to get government online as well as people and business.
The centrepiece of the e-government drive is a new Performance and Innovation Unit report, e.gov: electronic government services for the 21st Century.
It puts in place new incentives, levers and structures to make sure the transformation happens within Whitehall. It means there will be sharpened funding and financial incentives to promote electronic service delivery as well as a government incubator to develop new service ideas.
It opens up the electronic delivery of government services to the private and voluntary sectors to encourage the improvement in service quality, to stimulate innovation and to provide value for money.
The strategy will ensure also that electronic service delivery is joined-up, with services focused on the needs of users, rather than government departments, and delivered through a range of means.
We are already achieving results, a third of government services are already online.
These are being improved, and new ones developed all the time. Existing examples include health advice from NHS Direct and travel advice from the Foreign Office. Within the next year you will be able to learn subjects like Japanese and forecast your pension online.
As we roll-out more services through the net, it’s vital we ensure Britain has the skills and opportunity so everyone can access them.
A key strand of UK online is ensuring universal access to the internet by 2005. We are creating a new network of UK online centres, where you will be able to surf the net, and get advice and training. The prime minister has already announced the first 600 centres.
In 1998, only 17% of primary schools were connected to the web. Now 86% are connected. Every adult can also claim an 80% discount on computer literacy courses. That means a #200 computer course will now cost only #40. And, later this Autumn, the learndirect service will open for business.
It will deliver its courses online, so everyone will be able to use it.
We appreciate there will be some people who will not want to use new technology. But our e-government strategy aims to benefit everyone.
All new technology offers opportunities to make the jobs of civil servants and public sectors workers easier.
By improving information management systems and cutting down on the paper trails we can free up staff to provide better service for the public.
Of course, e-government also requires new skills and change in the civil service. That is why the government’s Centre for Management and Policy Studies is rolling out the first programme of e-government courses this month. leaders@e-government targets senior civil servants to help them develop a knowledge of the skills necessary to realise the potential of new technologies.
We have high-level commitment in government. I drive the agenda at ministerial level, with the e-envoy playing a key role in galvanising senior civil servants in departments.
We have just announced the appointment of a webmaster-general, Lucian Hudson, reporting to the e-envoy. As director of e-communications in the Cabinet Office, he’ll spearhead our drive to ensure we have the best web presence.
The targets set for e-government are a challenge, but they are exciting. Our goal is to create convenient 24-hour government at people’s fingertips.
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