Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Correspondence from Mr Richard Dudding, Director General, Strategy and Corporate Services, Office of Deputy Prime Minister and Department for Transport

REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL: Government on the Web II (HC 764)



  Following the machinery of government changes announced on 29 May, DTLR no longer exists as a Department. This will have implications for your hearing on 12 June and the witnesses you wish to call.

  I thought, however, that I should send you anyway the memorandum that Richard Mottram would have submitted to you. Whilst this refers throughout to DTLR, most of what is said will hold good under the new arrangements. The one caveat is that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and the Department for Transport (DfT) will need to take their own decisions on development of web sites, reflecting their new identities.

  I should for completeness add that whilst the majority of DTLR responsibilities have been split between ODPM and DfT, electoral matters have transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department, who will therefore take over former DTLR responsibilities for e-voting.

Richard Dudding

30 May 2002

Government on the Web II

  DTLR is absolutely committed to the e-government agenda, and is on-course to meet the Government's target of e-enabling all services by 2005. The Government on the Web II report gives us some useful insights, which we look forward to discussing with the Committee.

  We are pleased that the NAO report confirmed that DTLR's e-Business Strategy is balanced and should enable DTLR to realise its e-business vision. Our vision is of accessible, reliable customer-focused services that improve the delivery of DTLR's objectives, and support the broader Modernising Government agenda. The recent launch of the Planning Portal is an early example of the work we are doing to deliver this vision.

  The report's recommendations for DTLR focused in two key areas—the Web site and local e-government. I thought it would be useful to set out for the Committee in advance of the hearing on 12 June some of the action already underway or planned in these areas. Obviously I will be able to discuss the issues in more detail with the Committee at the hearing.

WEB SITE

  The NAO concluded that DTLR should continue to invest in its Web site and move towards developing a more interactive site. A number of specific recommendations were made about how the Web site should be improved. We acknowledge the criticisms made about the Web site. As a result of the first Government on the Web report, DETR (as was) recruited a professionally qualified Web site manager. The site is currently being redeveloped and is due to be re-launched in December 2002. The "next generation" site will:

    —  have an improved, more professional design;

    —  have a better search engine, providing improved retrieval facilities;

    —  make it simpler to locate non-English language materials, primarily in Welsh, but in other languages as they become available;

    —  enable better use of audio and video technology to complement campaigns, such as THINK! and fire safety;

    —  provide the technical foundation for the development of interactive and commerce based activities, such as consultation and licensing; and

    —  provide opportunities for personalisation to improve the user experience.

  As noted by the NAO, the introduction of content management software will make it easier for content providers within DTLR(C) to provide Web site content. As a result of the NAO investigation, we bought all domains for DTLR, so now addresses such as dtlr.info, dtlr.co.uk etc. automatically direct users to the DTLR site. The recommendation of using subject-based names is very much in line with Office of the e-Envoy thinking and we are working with them on that.

  In terms of assessing web site usage, DTLR has a strong record on evaluation. We use a variety of measures to assess Web site use and to obtain citizens' views on what should be improved. We have had a questionnaire about the site, and also receive feedback through a dedicated webmaster e-mail account.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

  I am pleased to provide the Committee with copies of the draft National Strategy [email protected]: towards a national strategy for local e-government that was published in April for consultation. Given this timing, the draft national strategy could not be reflected in the NAO report.

  The Government is committed to improving public services. The use of e-government can help transform the quality of local services and the organisations that deliver them. Local government is important in this context for two key reasons. Firstly, the number of transactions by local government vastly exceeds that of central government. Secondly, local councils are the natural point of focus around which all local public services can be most efficiently joined together.

  Every council now acknowledges the importance of e-government as a fundamental part of the modernisation agenda and are responding positively and energetically to the challenges. All local authorities (bar one) have local strategies setting out how they will Implement Electronic Government. Based on local authorities' own assessments, the average availability of electronic services was at 29 per cent in July last year, and is expected to reach 45 per cent by March 2003, 73 per cent by March 2004 and 100 per cent by the end of 2005 in line with the national target.

  The draft national strategy seeks to clarify a common and ambitious vision of local e-government and promotes its delivery. It provides for:

    —  A model of the building blocks of local e-government with which local authorities and other public services can build and implement their own e-strategies.

    —  A national framework of standards, details of the infrastructure required and proposals to encourage partnership working, and capacity building in key skills, which will help local authorities in implement their local strategies.

    —  A vision of local e-government which puts customers at the heart of the design and delivery of local services.

  The draft national strategy emphasises that e-government is about more than just technology and the Internet. It is about putting citizens at the heart of local government and harnessing technology to improve our public services for example, by providing services at times and places most convenient to the customer.

  It will necessarily include a variety of access channels such as call centres, one-stop shops, mobile phones and Digital TV as well as using the Internet to provide services. It will require a lot of preparation work by authorities to re-engineer and integrate their back office systems to facilitate the delivery of e-enabled services.

  As the consultation document sets out in Chapter 6 and as the NAO report has underlined has underlined there is a need to revisit the Best Value Performance Indicator 157, which measures the level of councils services that are capable of being delivered electronically. Although this mirrors the government-wide target to e-enable all services by 2005 we recognise the need to develop the indicator to include some measure of take up and customer satisfaction.

  Nevertheless we are not relying purely on this indicator to judge the progress being made. We will also be using complementary research and local authorities' own plans. Chapter 10 of the draft National Strategy sets out the research base, which we will use in short to medium term. For example we are undertaking research which will develop a outcome measures and baseline information that will allow a full assessment of the outcomes and impacts of local e-government in the longer term. Research undertaken by others such as the Society of Information Technology Management (SOCITM) and the Improvement and Development Agency for local government (IDeA) bolster this information base.

  We also recognise that we can learn from the first round of Implementing Electronic Government Statements. The next round, due later this year will build upon the lessons learnt and enable us, given the progress which is made on the ground, to create an even clearer picture of how authorities are progressing to meet the 2005 target.

  The draft National Strategy includes a commitment to produce an implementation plan for local e-government alongside the final strategy, and an Annual Report to chart progress nationally and locally. Following the consultation period, which ends on 28 June, we expect to publish the final strategy in October. As far as possible, we would be happy to take into account the PAC's consideration in the final strategy.

  I hope that this memorandum and the draft National Strategy are useful to the Committee in providing some additional information about our ongoing e-business vision and strategy. We are grateful to the NAO for their useful recommendations.

Sir Richard Mottram KCB

Permanent Secretary

Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions


 
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