Ignorance hampers e-government drive

The National Audit Office warns that one in six government departments still aren't online, and urges the e-envoy to focus on e-government implementation

The government is ignorant about the costs and benefits of putting public services online, and is not doing enough to learn from the experiences of people who are using existing government Web sites, according to an official report released on Thursday.

The National Audit Office (NAO) also said that while the e-envoy's office has done a good job in pushing the case for e-government within Westminster, it must now focus on helping departments implement their online initiatives.

The report, titled Government on the Web II, warns that although progress has been made in developing government Web sites and e-services, there are still some big issues to be addressed if the target of putting all government services on the Internet by 2005 is to be achieved.

"There is still no methodology for establishing the financial costs and benefits of online services. There is no central collection of data on Web site usage," warns the NAO. "Such data would provide valuable information about what works -- and what doesn't work -- for citizens using online government services."

According to the NAO, work still needs to be done to improve the functionality of some government Web sites. "The usefulness of most search engines on government sites is low, and most information is not tailored to user's needs," said the report, adding that only one in 16 sites could offer relevant information if a user submitted their postcode.

The NAO did welcome the fact that all major cabinet departments have now created well-developed Web sites, but was less impressed with the fact that 66 out of a total of 376 government organisations still don't have any Internet presence.

Most of these 66 organisations were small operations that dealt with other government departments, rather than with members of the public. It is still a cause for concern, though. The NAO has pointed out that it important for government departments to have Web sites that function well and let citizens access important services. The fact that one in six government departments have no Web site at all suggests the government may struggle to put all its services online by 2005.

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