Blair sets pace for wired administration

The Blair government is about to accelerate the UK's commitment to the 'wired state' with a series of initiatives designed to use technology to cut red tape for citizens, and make government more accessible online.

David Clark, Minister for Public Service, held a press conference on Monday at the House of Commons where he demonstrated work in progress on a number of projects. A family TV set was shown, equipped with interactive services based on an Acorn set top box. A spokesman at the Cabinet Office told ZDNet that the government was in talks with British Interactive Broadcasting to see what public information could be made available over the system.

An Oracle funded pilot with Lewisham Council demonstrated how a video conferencing system could be used to enable tenants to talk to housing managers at their desks, from a PC in a remote neighbourhood office.

Cumbria Council are working with BT to develop multimedia kiosks to deliver local information, Cable and Wireless are working on a secure intranet for national government and Microsoft are working on an interactive form that is designed to enable the self employed to register their business status with government departments online.

"The interactive form will be piloted in the Autumn. It will cut the number of forms that a self-employed person needs to fill-out from eight to one, and it can be carried out instantly online" said a Cabinet Office spokesman.

The downside for IT firms hoping to capitalise on the 'Government Direct' initiative is that no additional funding will be earmarked for the project. "It is envisaged that the departments will handle their new technology initiatives out of existing spending plans". The government's central IT unit will be involved to ensure that there is consistency, and that the departments are not duplicating each others work.