18 June 2003 The UK government should scale back its plans to get all government services online by 2005 and concentrate on getting people to use the services that are already there.
That is the finding of SmartGov: Renewing Electronic Government for Improved Service Delivery, a report by iSociety, part of the independent, not-for-profit think tank The Work Foundation.
According to James Crabtree, research director of the iSociety programme, the low uptake of online government services is putting the credibility of the entire e-government initiative at risk. The solution, he says, is to be more pro-active in making certain social groups adopt core e-government services, such as filling in tax returns online.
The Inland Revenue has already stated that it will be compulsory for all big businesses to file their tax returns electronically by 2005,
but speaking to the Financial Times newspaper, Crabtree said that there is a strong case for wider use of such measures.
“If people have Internet access at home and are computer literate, why should the state subsidise people to use more expensive, more time-consuming paper-based tax returns? We should move towards a system in which certain groups become compelled to use online channels.”
The SmartGov report suggests that the savings generated by adopting such legislation would release much needed resources to help the less well off get online and to retain face-to-face and paper-based methods of working for those who are not, and may never be, part of the e-generation.
The report also suggests that there will be little benefit in addressing some of the 30% or so of services that are not yet online.
“Some of the services the government has to put online to meet its 100% target — from burial at sea to potato seed classification — begin to look a little peculiar when barely 3% of those eligible are filing their tax returns online,” said Crabtree.
“The government wants to give people choice in how they use public services, but in a dogfight between choice and use, use has to be the clear victor. The focus must shift to channel migration strategies and deeper segmentation of e-literate users,” he added.
iSociety, which is sponsored by Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers, is the largest non-government funded information technology project in the UK, specialising in the impact of information and communication technology at home, in communities and at work.