Survey condemns government e-plans

Failure of online plans puts £3.7bn of taxpayers' money at stake

Technology companies have delivered a damning assessment of government's electronic plans, with a huge majority claiming it will fail to deliver on its promises.

The government is intent on getting all of its services online by 2005, but according to a survey from research firm Forrester it still has a long way to go. Forrester warns that the government will lose taxpayers up to £3.7bn if it fails to keep its online strategy on course.

Of the 45 technology companies interviewed a huge 87 percent believe the government will fail to get services online. "The top guys have no understanding of the issues. Apart from Tony Blair the Internet strategy is very patchy. The government is still stuck on Windows 3.1," one spokesman from a software firm told Forrester.

Half of the interviewees blamed cultural issues as the biggest obstacle to e-government goals. Forty percent cited procurement issues. The Cabinet Office has been working hard to improve the government's IT processes following damning reports from its own accountants earlier in the year.

One interviewee, from a technology consultancy firm, worries that the government will pay lip service to its self-imposed targets. "It depends on the definition of making it. Having the capability and delivering it are entirely different things. They have to give the impression of achieving targets and to a large extent they will."

There are also worries expressed in the survey about the government's ability to coordinate its online ventures. "There is no problem getting each different department online but whether it is all integrated is a different matter," points out one solution provider.

The government hit back, describing the research as "weedy". "It demonstrates little awareness of what is already happening in government," said a Cabinet Office spokesman. He admitted there is "still a lot of work to be done" but claims the government is doing a lot of work to develop transactional services as well as information.

The spokesman denies that the culture of government is not cut out for such an ambitious undertaking. "There is a commitment from the top tier civil service down that we need to change. People now expect the same level of service from government as from the private sector," he says. "We have to debunk the myth that the civil service use quill pens and are all technophobes."

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