Government accused of transferring red tape to the Net

The government is more interested in meeting targets to get all its services online than about quality, says report

A damning report published on Thursday accuses the government of being out of touch with citizens in its ambitious online plans.

Independent thinktank Demos accuses the government of merely transferring offline red tape on to the Net and says the government should produce an Internet Bill of Rights outlining citizens' rights and responsibilities in the digital age. The report claims the government is more interested in meeting its 2005 target to have all government services online, than about the quality of those services. Targets for e-government should be about providing genuine improvements in the delivery of services rather than just automating existing ones, the report recommends

The recommendations are listed in a report -- Transformation, not Automation -- a critique of the government's online strategy in which report author Daniel Stedman-Jones warns that e-government is in danger of strangling itself in red tape. "E-government has the potential to transform our democratic and political institutions," he says. "The practices underway today are leading the UK towards a 'virtual Whitehall' with many of the bureaucratic problems that e-government should eliminate."

The government needs a more coherent strategy that links government departments, says the report. "Joined-up government is still an aspiration rather than a reality," says director of Demos Tom Bentley. "The government should have a new ambition -- a fundamental, institutional transformation. E-government is not just about replicating routines online, it is about a new role between citizen and state."

Coenraad van der Poel, chief operating officer at EzGov, a software company which builds e-government services, believes the government has taken its lead too much from industry. "The government's focus on e-commerce has meant that users of online services are treated as consumers rather than citizens. E-government must start to be seen as an essential part of the modernisation of government -- not just as an optional extra."

Hitting back at critics, e-minister Patricia Hewitt claims that e-government is still at an early stage. "We are taking existing services and making them more accessible," she explains. "The next stage which we are just embarking on is to make e-enablement part of a much larger project to modernise government."

Other recommendations in the report were to make the e-minister a cabinet post to provide better leadership, to create a public sector venture capital fund to encourage an entrepreneurial approach to e-government and develop a comprehensive plan to ensure e-government projects are integrated.

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