The government has unveiled a prototype of a unified e-government website, while also announcing the recruitment of 100,000 'digital champions' who have volunteered to help get the UK populace online.
The government has unveiled a prototype of a unified e-government website, Alpha.gov.uk.
On Wednesday, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the prototype website, alpha.gov.uk, followed the standard practice of large organisations that want to test out new web services, but it was nonetheless a first for the UK government. The website aims to provide a single repository for all central government department information — a markedly different approach to the numerous .gov.uk websites that are currently in operation.
Interacting with the government online is, with a few notable exceptions, lengthy, complicated and generally painful.– Francis Maude
"Interacting with the government online is, with a few notable exceptions, lengthy, complicated and generally painful," Maude said in a statement. "We inherited hundreds of websites all providing separate government services, which cost a lot and make it incredibly difficult to find what you are looking for. We are trying to change this."
According to the government, using a single website should save about half of the £130m that it currently spends on official internet publishing each year. Although it has launched with little more than the answers to the top 100 most frequently-asked government-service-related questions — such as "How much is the minimum wage?" — the site will ultimately include all governmental services.
According to Maude there are nine million adults in the UK who had never used the internet. On Wednesday he said that 100,000 volunteers — derived from the Post Office, Age UK, Comet, John Lewis and many other public- and private-sector organisations — have been recruited to "the UK's biggest ever cross-sector volunteer force". The volunteers will give the web-unsavvy advice, support and assistance to help people get online.
We aim to eliminate the three major barriers that we know prevent people from getting online — access, motivation and skills.– Martha Lane-Fox
The establishment of the single government website was one of the key recommendations given to the coalition by its lead 'digital champion', lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane-Fox. She is heading up a recruitment drive that the government hopes will help it achieve its Race Online 2012 goal of getting as many people as possible online by the London Olympics.
Lane-Fox said in the statement that the aim was to "create a truly remarkable digital UK where the internet is a tool that everybody can use for their benefit".
"Race Online 2012 always intended to solve the critical social and economic issues that arise when people are left behind as technology advances," Lane-Fox added. "By bringing together an extraordinary mix of cross-sector partners we aim to eliminate the three major barriers that we know prevent people from getting online — access, motivation and skills."
Lane-Fox also announced that partners in the Race Online 2012 organisation had agreed to provide new "low-cost recycled computer products" for the first time, targeting low-income families that are unable to get online.
The recycled scheme has been worked out with the co-operation of UK Online Centres, the Post Office, BT and Microsoft, along with refurbishers Europc, Remploy and Partners IT. The operator 3 is also involved, offering low-cost mobile broadband, while TalkTalk, the Post Office, BT, Sky, O2, PlusNet, Everything Everywhere and Primus Saver are offering fixed-line broadband services.
There are a few different options available: a 'Get Online @ Home' Windows 7 package starting at £95 for people claiming government benefits and registered charities, or costing £165 for anyone else; Remploy's £92 refurbished computer; and XMA's £120 Windows XP PC.
Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.