Tories attack cabinet’s online claims

The attack followed comments from cabinet office minister Ian McCartney that online targets were being met and despite his assertion that business transactions with Customs & Excise would go online in March followed by the Inland Revenue in April.

He said the Government Gateway would go live on Thursday for business registration and enrolment for online services from Customs and Excise, EU Common Agricultural Policy aid schemes and IR year-end transactions.

McCartney based his claims on a cabinet report issued last week which said the Government’s target of delivering 25% of its services electronically by 2002 has been reached more than a year early.

The report claimed that 40% of Government services were now available online, with this set to rise to nearly 75% by 2002.

However, Conservative MPs continued to complain that progress was slow in bringing government services online.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant responded to McCartney’s comments by accusing the cabinet office of complacency, complaining: ‘The roll-out of e-services is slow. McCartney’s responses were inadequate.’

He was supported by fellow MP Andrew Lansley who complained the Inland Revenue website has 12,000 visitors a day, but only 26,000 returns have been filed in six months. He demanded: ‘What proportion of those who access the IR website successfully file a return electronically?’

McCartney also announced that the government was poised to appoint a replacement for e-envoy Alex Allan, who quit unexpectedly in October. The minister said a top ranking selection panel has just completed interviewing candidates and was currently considering the alternatives.

But even this claim was met by criticism from within his own party. Labour MP Derek Wyatt, whose question sparked heated exchanges on the issue, remarked: ‘We need an internet minister first, rather than a new e-envoy.’

McCartney insisted there had been ‘absolutely no delay’ in replacing Allan.

Acting e-envoy Andrew Pinder said: ‘Getting all Government services online is a unique challenge, but the pieces in the puzzle are really coming together.’

Research by National Statistics revealed 18% of adults who used the internet, do so to access Government services or official information.


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