The target to get all government services on line by 2005 is looking less achievable following the latest survey of central departments by the Office of the e-Envoy. Some 63% of services are now online and this represents a 10% increase on the spring 2002 findings. Although the rate of delivering electronic services is likely to increase as the deadline approaches, it is increasingly unlikely that the gap will be closed. A more rigorous reporting process is to be introduced to gain a better picture of what is actually happening.The e-Envoy said that Government is determined to transform the delivery of its services and e-government is fundamental to achieving this aim. Success in delivering services will be measured by take-up rather than availability. This is a recognition that the 2005 availability target is not measuring what is important. Experience has shown that take-up is much more difficult to achieve. Two years after Customs and Excise introduced on-line VAT payment only 0.4% of returns were lodged on-line. The Inland Revenue is only achieving a marginally better result with Income Tax returns.
The Government’s strategy to respond to the take-up issue is to create a mixed economy in the supply of government services and develop a marketplace where government and organisations from the private and voluntary sectors come together to deliver e-government services. The use of intermediaries is common practice in the private sector where, for example, supermarkets offer customers a ‘cash back’ facility on behalf of banks.
A mixed economy approach could, for example, benefit someone caring for a child. Currently the carer joins up manually all the services the child needs and becomes expert in getting things done through multiple legal and official channels. In the future an intermediary, in a voluntary sector organization, could enable the carer to take advantage of public services without having as now to become an expert in the process. Continuity would be managed entirely by the intermediary using internet based technologies to access information based services targeted on gaining an early diagnosis and support.
The e-Envoy has appealed to central departments and agencies, as well as to the private and voluntary sectors to find out how they could get involved in the mixed economy. An e-Venuring Unit has been set up to be a catalyst of joined-up private and public sector initiatives and as an accelerator of an intermediary’s individual innovative ideas. The Unit will assist with intermediary proposals and act as expert adviser and knowledge repository. It will be the place where promising ideas for customer centric/joined-up public services can be taken for rapid evaluation and assistance to make them happen. It will act “outside the box” and foster innovation and departments will be able to call on its resources.