Select Committee on European Union Fourteenth Report


290. The Part should be read in the context of the detail provided by Part 4, The e-commerce environment, and Part 5, What Governments are doing currently.

291. A number of witnesses have commented on the excellence of the PIU report e­[email protected]. This remains the E-Envoy's basic tool for monitoring e­commerce and e-government issues. Witnesses have also praised the e­commerce Minister for the way in which she has driven this subject. We now consider progress towards e-government in this context.

The need for e-government

292. The development of e-government is generally accepted as being vital in the future and several witnesses have stressed the importance of Government adopting e-commerce for its own activities rather than standing back and encouraging others to do so.[137] It may be difficult for Departments, which have some responsibility for stimulating e-commerce or developing regulation, to do so without any experience of using it themselves.

293. Other evidence stated that e-commerce could only truly flourish if using the Internet for transactions became part of an almost daily routine for potential customers.[138] Building routine is important for consumer confidence. Making e-government work must be one of the better ways to achieve this—it must be more than window dressing.


294. The United Kingdom Government has set targets. All mainstream services are to be available over the Internet by 2003 and all services are to be available by 2005. The United Kingdom Government is on track to meet these broad targets, according to the evidence of the E-Envoy.[139] The broad targets have been broken down into more detailed targets and milestones. All Departments have appointed "e-czars" who are to develop e-strategies for their Departments. The e-strategies are to be submitted to the E-Envoy by October when they will be consolidated. We note that this date has been put back from the original deadline of March 2000.

295. The United Kingdom Government also has targets for the adoption of e-procurement and, according to the E-Envoy, the targets will be met.

296. High level objectives seem therefore to be in place. The issue is now to monitor progress towards the targets and, later, to implement the strategies. The monthly progress reports submitted by the E-Envoy to the Prime Minister suggest that while some targets have been achieved other important targets have been delayed. Some departments are making better progress than others and we speculate that this could relate to the quality of political leadership in different areas. Overall there is little evidence of real "joined up" government being achieved through the medium of e-commerce. For example e-commerce implications are not included in policies on transport, energy, town planning.[140]


297. In order to implement its strategies and achieve the targets, a number of pre-conditions must be met.

Universal access

298. The commitment to universal access in the context of e-government is regarded as especially important by many.[141] A recommendation on the technologies which are likely to be the means of universal access was stated in the last Part. However, for e-government it has been proposed that public access points should be provided in order to avoid disenfranchising people. It is likely that this would involve links with local government, building on existing initiatives to improve access to local services. We support the concept that, in conjunction with local authorities, the Government take steps to provide public access to the Internet.


299. As many witnesses have emphasised the achievement of the targets will depend as much on changing existing structures and re-designing existing processes as it will on technology.[142] We note that such changes were recommended in the 1996 Select Committee report. The US government was heavily criticised by representatives from the State of Virginia for its failure to make these sorts of changes.[143] We note that the PIU report on "new ideas and approaches to government electronic service delivery" is expected in July 2000 and believe this to be crucial to the implementation of strategies and the achievement of targets.

300. Structural problems also hinder e-procurement. The size of government and the immensity of its requirements are a problem as is its traditional "stovepipe" structure whereby any one Government Department may be unaware that other Departments are using the same supplier.

301. We agree that the United Kingdom Government should lead by example and that the Government make the achievement of its e-government targets a priority. We recommend that it consider, with renewed urgency, the re-structuring that will be necessary to implement its strategies and achieve its targets. We believe that greater evidence of progress is required.

Cross-agency funding

302. Projects to bring about "joined up" government, as far as e-commerce is concerned, will require cross-agency funding. The same is true in the EU. Witnesses from the State of Virginia gave evidence that the mechanisms they had put in place for cross-agency funding, mechanisms specifically intended for e-commerce initiatives, had been essential in making progress.

303. We recommend that the EU and the United Kingdom Government put in place mechanisms for cross-agency project funding and seek advice from HM Treasury on how to minimise obstructions.


304. If e-government is to become a reality some secure form of identification will be required. Currently banks use PIN numbers to identify customers and Government uses photographs on driving licences and passports. These methods are inadequate. Banks, for example, are seeking to find more secure identification procedures. New methods are required if identification for e-government purposes is to be efficient and effective. First, there needs to be single forms of identification. In other words citizens should not have to use different methods for different Departments. Nor should different methods be required for different purposes, for example being sent a benefit cheque or renewing a passport. Second, identification needs to be more secure than it is at present. For example bank cards, passports and driving licences have all been subject to forgery and fraud.

305. There is a serious risk that current problems such as benefit fraud and tax evasion could be magnified with the advent of e-government which would largely remove face-to-face contact. There are also new opportunities for computer hackers to distort these activities.

306. One solution to these problems is the adoption of some form of identity card. Apart from issues of fraud there would be clear benefits to citizens. For example, they would have a single means of gaining access to all e-government services; they would not need passports or driving licences; they would be able to access benefits, such as medical benefits, quickly and easily elsewhere in the EU; they could be used in the private sector for example to access banking services.

307. We recommend that the United Kingdom Government conduct an investigation into the merits and demerits of an electronic identity system.

137   Views expressed by US guests at a lunch given by HM Ambassador Washington, Appendix 5. Back

138   Adhocracy Consulting Ltd (UK & AUS) and DIT Solutions (UK) Ltd, p 386 et seq; Mr Peter Apostolou, p 396 et seqBack

139   E-Envoy and e-Minister's report to the Prime Minister, 30 June 2000,, at time of publication. Back

140   Digital Futures Consortium, Q 591. Back

141   Communication Workers Union, p 159; and Digital Futures Consortium, Q 591. Back

142   Mr David Casey, Q 476; and Professor J Norton, Q 181. Back

143   The Honorable Donald Upson, Appendix 5. Back

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