Tax travesty a blip on the government's online radar

E-envoy Andrew Pinder brushes aside concerns about the government's previously botched attempt at an online tax return form and defends Blair's choice of e-commerce minister

Government blunders such as last year's online tax return, which proved for many to be more difficult to use than a traditional form, are being or have already been fixed, according to the e-envoy Andrew Pinder.

The tax form howler meant that when many users reached the end of their online tax form an error message appeared. Speaking to ZDNet at the Network Telecoms show in Birmingham today, Pinder said that the process has now been turned into an interactive procedure, so that each piece of information is checked as it is entered.

The Internal Revenue problems were particularly ironic because Pinder spent 18 years working for the department, becoming its director of IT, though he had moved on by the time the online tax forms were created.

Not everyone has been disturbed or surprised by the government's blunders in the IT realm. Philip Flaxton, chief executive of IT lobbying group InterForum, said that the learning curve has been steep for the government and industry alike. "I'd rather see these errors that have been made by the government than a government that has stuck its head in the sand," he said, pointing out that the UK's government is "very advanced" compared to other European governments.

"Now that they've been elected to a second term maybe they can get on with it and finish what they started," Flaxton said.

Pinder also defended the appointment of MP Douglas Alexander as the e-commerce minister to supplement Patricia Hewitt's role as e-minister. Alexander was criticised for having no background in IT, but Pinder, who works with both Alexander and Hewitt, but reports directly to Tony Blair, said this background is not necessarily a disadvantage.

"In a minister the important thing is a commitment to what you are trying to do. Douglas Alexander has a legal background, and he has shown in just a few days that he can take a brief and work with it," Pinder told ZDNet UK. "His job is to understand the issues people face, to work with parliament and to provide some political leadership."

He said that his own background in IT and in high-tech investment banking is important because "the nature of my job is to understand this industry".

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