2 Risks to the accessibility of public
9. The Government's strategy for the delivery of
public services is informed by Sir David Varney's review of service
transformation. The strategy is set out in the Transformational
Government Strategy and in the 2007 Service Transformation Agreement
which was published as part of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending
services over the internet is just one of a range of channels
that government can use to deliver services and information to
citizens, customers and businesses. Others include call centres,
mail, face-to-face meetings, mobile phones and digital television.
10. The internet, however, is not always the most
appropriate channel for all citizens or all services. This may
be because some services are better suited to face to face transactions
(such as being interviewed for a passport) or because a particular
service is aimed at a social group likely to not have ready internet
access such as those on low incomes. The Transformational Government
Strategy sets out the Government's plans to invest in websites
alongside other channels, based on an understanding of their customers'
needs. This understanding
is intended to form the basis for government organisations' channel
strategies, setting out how they plan to deliver online service
improvements. At present, however, a third of government organisations
do not have such strategies.
11. The Government is promoting the use of electronic
channels such as the internet and contact centres for routine
transactions such as renewing vehicle excise duty. Online delivery
can be more efficient than more traditional means of service delivery.
The Varney review estimated that up to £400 million could
be saved from greater use of electronic service delivery.
The money released in this way could be used to fund services
for those people who do not, or cannot, use the internet, such
as the socially excluded. For example, The Pension Service, local
authorities and the voluntary sector provide joint face-to-face
services for those who cannot access services in other ways.
12. The Cabinet Office does not know how much money
is being saved through the delivery of services over the internet.
Internet transactions are administratively cheaper, but most departments
do not know the costs per transaction and how they compare with
the costs of other channels. The Government also does not know
whether any savings from moving central government services to
the internet are being used to improve more traditional service
channels for those who cannot use internet services or whose needs
may be complex and require a more targeted, tailored service that
involves human interaction.
13. Some government organisations are reducing face-to-face
contact, as demonstrated by the increasing use of telephone contact
centres by The Pension Service. The impact of this change on socially
excluded citizens is unknown.
There is a risk that the drive to deliver more services online
could increase social exclusion if more personalised means of
delivery are not also promoted with the same degree of vigour
and enthusiasm. Those
who use government services the most tend to be people on lower
incomes and the socially excluded.
They are also much less likely to have either the skills or the
access to technology to use the internet. For example, 79% of
people receiving means tested benefits lack ICT skills and 75%
of socially excluded people do not use the internet. Around half
of those earning less than £10,400 a year have never used
14. The Government wishes to make internet access
available to as many people as possible. To meet this objective,
the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills sponsors
some 6,000 UK online centres providing free or low-cost internet
access. These are used by around three million people every year.
Most centres are located in public libraries, and many help people
to access public services online. However, the level of support
and training on offer varies and, in some cases, is very limited.
15. Local authorities are also developing shared
services. For example, the Rushcliffe First Contact Signposting
Scheme and the One-Stop-Shop services provided jointly by Staffordshire
Moorlands County Council and District Council.
These provide joined-up public services at a single location,
offering advice and guidance on employment, benefits and pensions.
16. 45% of contacts with the Disability and Carers
Service and around 23% of contacts with The Pension Service come
through intermediaries. Government departments have found it difficult,
however, to establish online communications with intermediaries,
and the Cabinet Office has been cautious about the use of intermediaries
because of fears about identity fraud. In 2007, the Department
commissioned research to explore how such links could be developed
in the future. This work is being reviewed and the Cabinet Office
plan to develop a strategy for engaging with intermediaries in
22 HM Treasury, Service Transformation: A better
service for citizens and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer
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HM Treasury, Service Transformation: A better service for citizens
and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk./media/4/F/pbr06_varney_review.pdf Back
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