Headlines: December 17th, 1999

The National Audit Office says there’s much to be done to meet Tony Blair’s 2002 target for a quarter of all transactions between citizens and government to be capable of being conducted electronically.But in a report, Government on the Web, the NAO says the target has successfully acted as a spur to spawning a much increased awareness of agencies and departments to the potential of the web.

The report looks at the overall patterns of web use across central government and its co-ordination. It draws on a census of all central government web sites and a survey of all permanent secretaries of departments and agency chief executives.

The report highlights that access to the internet by the public has increased by more than 25 per cent in the last 12 months, to ten million. This has the potential to provide higher quality services at lower cost.

In the mid 1990s Britain was ahead of other European governments and much of private business. The central public Web site (open.gov.uk) created a basic web presence for a large number of agencies.

But that impetus has now flagged and in contrast to private sector firms British government web sites, with some notable exceptions, now lag behind and look disconnected and relatively hard to navigate.

Few sites provide for web-based transactions such as facilities to download electronic forms, interrogate agency databases, or accomplish dealings electronically. In Australia 75% of tax forms are already filed electronically.

The NAO recommends that the Cabinet Office should collate data on web developments across government, publish an annual survey and set demanding targets for growth.

This report is available from the date of publication on the NAO web site at http://www.nao.gov.uk/publications/nao_reports/index.htm