Egovernment account could save billions

The government should provide every citizen with an individual online account to manage their financial transactions with Whitehall departments, says the former chairman of the Inland Revenue.

Link: Jury is still out on e-government

Sir Nicholas Montagu, who retired last year, says the benefits of a numbered internet-accessible account would dwarf the £21bn savings outlined by the government’s Efficiency Review.

‘Think of all the different financial transactions between citizens and central government alone, and if you extend that to the wider public sector and local government you could have really huge efficiencies,’ Montagu told Accountancy Age’s sister publication Computing.

Under his proposal, the size of operational departments such as Customs and Revenue, and the Department for Work and Pensions could be significantly reduced.

Lack of access to the internet is only a short-term barrier to the proposal, and the government should be doing the groundwork now, said Montagu.

‘As things stand there is a digital divide, but once digital TV really takes off everybody will be able to access the internet from their living rooms,’ he said. ‘This is a vision of the future, not something that is immediately practicable. But the government ought to be paving the way now.’

Such an ambitious scheme needs backing from 10 Downing Street and the chancellor. The Cabinet Office’s head of egovernment, Ian Watmore, has a key role to play, said Montagu.

‘The power of the head of egovernment ought to be to ensure that departments develop their systems with this common end in view,’ he said.

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said: ‘The IT Strategy for Government project is looking at the concept of a joined-up citizen account, but it is premature to draw conclusions one way or another.’

Montagu raised the issue of government accounts at the Society of IT Managers’ spring conference.

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