Presenting the report to Parliament Sir John Bourn, the head of the NAO, recognised the effort and resources being put into boosting central government presence on-line and in promoting e-government among local authorities. The Office of the e-Envoy has given a clear cultural lead from the centre to departments developing e-business initiatives. But to maximise the potential benefits from these resources (244 staff and £52 million annual expenditure), the Office needs to move beyond campaigning for e-government towards a service delivery style with emphasis on implementation.
Government has set the target that 100 per cent of services should be available on-line by 2005. Progress has been made in developing Web sites and in encouraging the development of e-services across government. The report found that the number of organisations with a web site has increased but 66 out of 376 central government organisations were still without a web site (Those organisations without a site at the time of the census are chiefly small government bodies which have few if any dealings either with citizens at large or with firms and enterprises, normally because they are units which provide a specialist service within government itself). All the major Cabinet departments have well-developed Web sites.
But there are real issues still to be addressed. There is still no methodology for establishing the financial costs and benefits of on-line services. There is no central collection of data on web site usage. Such data would provide valuable information about what works – and what doesn’t work – for citizens using on-line government services. And government needs to place maximisation of take-up of electronic services at the heart of the e-government agenda.
The proportion of agencies allowing users to fill-in and submit forms on line has improved from one in seven to one in four. However, the usefulness of most search engines on government sites is low, and most information is not tailored to user needs; for example, only one site in 16 presented relevant information in response to users’ inputting a postcode. The UK Online site represents some progress towards a central government portal for the UK but the site’s design has been problematic and usage numbers have been lower than expected. A ‘rebuild’ of the UK Online site was launched in late January 2002, with a better-designed and more useful homepage and an improved search engine which delivers more intuitive results.
The report includes in depth case studies of two major departments – HM Customs and Excise and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and a census of central government web sites and of all local authority sites.
On specific departmental sites the report concludes that the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has some way to go to develop its web site to its full potential especially in presenting information more interactively. The Department should strengthen its information base about the development of local government on the Web and of local electronic services and develop a more meaningful set of indicators to measure usage and take up of services.
It also says that HM Customs and Excise should continue to develop its recently modernised web site. Good information services and analysis of users’ existing Web behaviours will need to form an integral part of the departments e-business plans if it is to successfully develop electronic services. The department has introduced a risk management regime in recognition of the scale and significance of its e-business programme and should continue its approach to handling e-business development in stages.
The Office of the E Envoy should review its target regime to include specific requirements for departments and agencies to grow their web site usage and take-up of electronic services and put in place an information base to identify the value added by e-government projects.