E-government plans in disarray

It wants everyone online but its first attempt to implement e-government has not been a success

E-government plans appeared to be in disarray Thursday as Compaq withdrew from the process of setting up an infrastructure for electronic delivery, forcing the government back to the drawing board.

The government has always stressed its plans for an information society must begin with it getting its own house in order and has ambitious plans to join up government departments and have all government services online by 2005.

However, the initial process to establish a government gateway -- joining all the currently fragmented government departments into one single point of access -- has not gone smoothly. "Detailed investigations conducted by Compaq and the government during this exploratory phase led to changes in the originally proposed approach to the design and development," reads a Cabinet Office statement. "Given these changes, it has been decided that it is not possible to proceed to the implementation stage as originally intended. Consequently Compaq and the government will not now be signing a contract to partner in the delivery of the Gateway solution."

The loss of Compaq -- signed up for the contract earlier in the year -- will come as an embarrassment to the Cabinet Office, which has been charged with improving the way IT works across government. Costly mistakes such as the Ministry of Defence spending £30m on two IT projects that were scrapped before completion led the Cabinet Office to announce in May a crackdown on badly-implemented IT schemes.

It is the second blow in as many months to Tony Blair's government, which is determined to make the UK the most e-commerce friendly nation in the world by the year 2002. E-envoy Alex Allan -- who was given the job of overseeing e-government plans -- resigned last month to return to Australia. An interim replacement, independent IT consultant Andrew Pinder, has been appointed while the government re-advertises the post.

MPs have also responded sceptically to the government's Internet plans, claiming that over half do not yet have an email address

Neither the Cabinet Office nor Compaq were prepared to give details about the problems accounted or what happens next. The Cabinet Office claims the decision to terminate current plans will not affect the government's target of getting all services online by 2005.

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