Headlines: December 6th, 2001

The second UK Online annual report describes the progress made towards ensuring that the UK is a world leader in the knowledge economy. In the past year Internet use has risen to 51% of the population, which is the highest in Europe. The Government Gateway has 178,000 registered users and 10,000 businesses interact with it electronically completing a wide range of forms through a single Internet point. The Gateway provides access to central and local government sites and to transactions such as making tax and VAT returns. It also caters for life episodes such as changing address where a single address change entry notifies all public organizations that need to know.The Gateway which is used as a role model and a case study for governments around the world is part of the UK online initiative, which was launched by the Prime Minister in September 2000. The aims are to ensure that all who want it have access to the Internet by 2005, to get all Government services online by the same time and to make the UK a leading e-commerce nation.

Critics of the UK Online initiative point to the failure of the Government to promote broadband technology which will give high speed Internet access and bring video conferencing and vast improvements in education and health services. This week’s announcement of measures to foster broadband has done little to restore confidence. The Conservative party argues that UK Online should put greater emphasis on delivering new and innovative services online rather than simply delivering old services in a new way. This reflects private sector unease following the withdrawal of a fishing licence service by Impower, the Internet start-up company. Impower decided it could not compete with a cheaper service launched by the Environment Agency. Research carried out by Visual Insights, the e-business performance company, has revealed that 75% of Government and agency Web sites contain out-of-date or incorrect information.

Copies of the UK online annual report are available on the e-envoywebsite: www.e-envoy.gov.uk/ukonline/progress/anrep2001/default.htm