Modernising Government

5. Information age government:

We will use new technology to meet the needs of citizens and business, and not trail behind technological developments

1. Information technology is changing our lives: the way we work, the way we do business, the way we communicate with each other, how we spend our time. New technology offers opportunities and choice. It can give us access to services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will make our lives easier. Government intends to be at the head of these developments, using them to give effect to the vision in this White Paper.

Identifying the problem

2. We have seen a revolution over the past decade in the way leading companies across the world do business. They have used networked computing to refocus their activities on the customer. They have used IT to work more closely with their suppliers. They have made innovative use of information to become learning organisations. They have supplied new services, when, where and how the customer wants them. They have developed new delivery channels like call centres and the Internet. They have given their staff the support they need to use IT effectively.

3. Government has not kept sufficient pace with these developments. We have been active in some areas. We set out our programme in a consultation paper, Our Information Age. We have launched major initiatives in education, libraries and the health service. We have begun to widen access to IT skills and to encourage the growth of electronic commerce and digital broadcasting. In the White Paper Our Competitive Future we have made clear our championship of electronic commerce as a key tool for a successful knowledge-driven economy. And in the Budget we announced a programme worth 1.7 billion to provide computers and IT literacy for all.

4. But we must go much further. Government has so far followed a largely decentralised approach to IT development. This has allowed Departments and agencies to modernise their systems in ways that meet their own needs. But we have not developed ways of ensuring that we maximise the benefits of IT for government as a whole. As a result, we have incompatible systems and services which are not integrated. We must do more if we are to obtain the real benefits of information age government, for better service delivery, better procurement and more efficient working.

What must change

5. The Government must bring about a fundamental change in the way we use IT. We must modernise the business of government itself achieving joined up working between different parts of government and providing new, efficient and convenient ways for citizens and businesses to communicate with government and to receive services.

IT will:

  • make it easier for businesses and individuals to deal with government.

  • enable government to offer services and information through new media like the Internet or interactive TV.

  • improve communications between different parts of government so that people do not have to be asked repeatedly for the same information by different service providers.

  • give staff at call centres and other offices better access to information so that they can deal with members of the public more efficiently and more helpfully.

  • make it much easier for different parts of government to work in partnership: central government with local authorities or the voluntary sector; or government with third-party delivery channels such as the Post Office or private sector companies.

  • help government to become a learning organisation by improving our access to, and organisation of, information.

Support for local communities and the voluntary sector

Voluntary groups and small businesses in Brixton are being helped to get on to the Internet by Brixton Online, a community based not-for-profit group. It provides low cost Internet training in conjunction with local Internet access points. It is developing a local learning network and helping small businesses use e-commerce technologies. Brixton Online is working in partnership with local business and Lambeth Borough Council.

6. Society is not homogeneous. Government exists to serve those who feel excluded from developments in information technology just as much as it serves those who embrace the new technology. The information age should increase the choice of how citizens and businesses receive services, not restrict it. The Internet, interactive TV and touchscreen delivery should take their place alongside more innovative use of the telephone, the call centre and the paper document, not replace them; nor should face to face contact be replaced where that is what is needed. We will develop targeted strategies to ensure that all groups have proper access to information age government.

Making a start

A corporate IT strategy for government

7. We are developing a corporate IT strategy for government. IT systems have tended to be developed separately by different public service agencies; we need now to encourage them to converge and inter-connect. This will focus on the needs of citizens and businesses and will encourage wider choice on how public services should be provided. It will maximise the benefits to both central and local government of a more co-ordinated approach to information technology procurement. In taking it forward we will work in partnership across the public sector and with the private sector. Through the strategy the Government will:

  • set key objectives for managing, authenticating and identifying data, using commercial open standards wherever possible.

  • establish frameworks for specific technologies where stronger co-ordination is needed.

  • ensure that government acts as a champion of electronic commerce.

E-commerce

By 2002, UK businesses and customers will be working in the best economy in the world for electronic trading. E-commerce is revolutionising the commercial world, offering greater choice to consumers, and greater access to markets for suppliers. In March 1999, the Government published a consultation paper proposing legislation for building confidence in e-commerce, and will be publishing a Bill after Easter.

  • use the Government Secure Intranet (GSI) to boost cross-departmental working and to make the public sector work more coherently.

  • strengthen the protection of privacy and human rights while providing a clear basis for sharing data between departments.

8. In taking forward this strategy, we will :

  • designate a senior official at board level within each Department to champion the information age government agenda within the Department and its agencies.

  • benchmark progress against targets for electronic service delivery, and against the best performance in the private sector and in other countries.

  • continue to work closely with business, both bilaterally and through the Information Age Partnership and associated groups.

  • incorporate information age government objectives into the approach for Best Value and beacon councils, and into agency framework documents.

  • align expenditure which supports IT investment from the Invest to Save Budget and the Capital Modernisation Fund with the strategy.

  • set a target that by the end of the year all Departments should be participating in the Government Secure Intranet. We will establish secure onward links to local authorities, hospitals and post offices. We will provide the IT base for government to work as a learning organisation and develop a range of applications on the GSI to support effective working across departmental boundaries. We will use the GSI as a platform for management of electronic government records.

Electronic services for citizens and businesses

9. The Government is taking specific actions to develop information age government through IT in a number of areas. In many cases this is allowing public services to be delivered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will continue to promote initiatives to modernise services in accordance with the needs of citizens and businesses.

For example:

  • the NHS will use IT to transform the way health services are delivered. NHS Direct will achieve national coverage by the end of 2000.

  • from 2000, individual taxpayers and businesses will be able to make income tax returns to the Inland Revenue and register for VAT with Customs & Excise over the Internet. In the Budget, the Government announced that there would be a discount for small businesses which make their tax returns electronically.

  • citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland, will be able to use an integrated service for vehicle testing, licensing and insurance which is being established in partnership with the insurance industry.

Better health services through the NHS

From the end of April 1999, 20 million people will be able to call NHS Direct for healthcare advice from experienced, qualified nurses. NHS Direct will work in partnership with other local services to provide advice to callers about getting the right level of care.

Some healthcare professionals are now able to deliver quicker test results, up-to-date specialist advice and even online booking of appointments through NHSnet. They will, later this year, also get access to a wide range of health information through the National Electronic Library for Health.

Better service for taxpayers

Taxpayers whose affairs are handled by the Inland Revenue Centre at East Kilbride can expect a great improvement in the service they receive. In February 1999, the Inland Revenue opened its first dedicated call centre in East Kilbride, which will conduct a wide range of business for 2 million employees and pensioners. Access to a faster and more convenient service for the customer is accompanied by increased efficiency for the Inland Revenue. Alongside the call centre is an incoming-mail room which will also handle all the postal interactions with customers in the area, and a one-stop shop handling 33,000 visits a year. This separation of roles will allow the 'customer facing' office to focus solely on providing excellent service to the customer, while the 'back office' can focus on efficient processing of data.

National Grid for Learning

More and more people are able to access information on a wide range of educational resources through the National Grid for Learning. The Grid is the national focal point for learning on the Internet. It is both an architecture of educationally valuable content and a programme for developing the means to access it in schools, libraries, colleges, universities, workplaces, homes and elsewhere. The National Grid for Learning initiative aims to connect all schools to the Internet by 2002. Currently, 30% of primary schools, 90% of secondary schools and 45% of special schools in England have some form of Internet access. The Grid was launched in November 1998 by the Prime Minister. The National Grid for Learning site and its partners offer some 50,00060,000 pages of material, and more is available each week. The site is currently being accessed on average over 75,000 times a day.

University for Industry

Individuals and businesses will soon have access to a wealth of lifelong learning resources through the University for Industry, a new kind of organisation for open and distance learning. Using modern information and communications technologies, it will broker high-quality learning products and services and make them available at home, in the workplace and at learning centres country-wide.

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Llandough Hospital and Community NHS Trust.

Darlington College of Technolgy.

ACCORD

ACCORD is the DSS programme for the next generation of IT. It will be central to modernising social security services at the turn of the century. At present, DSS assesses claims and holds information benefit by benefit on a series of administrative chimneys each with its own IT system. Information is duplicated and inconsistent. We ask people repeatedly for the same details, creating opportunities for fraud and abuse. ACCORD will bring together the data for delivering services. It will provide single accounts for social security customers and integrated modern systems that staff need to deliver high-quality, joined-up, service.

Information age services for Post Office customers

The Post Office will be equipped with a modern on-line IT platform to facilitate electronic provision of government services across post office counters.

Electronic public records

The Public Record Office is leading a strategy across government for managing and accessing archives, using modern IT to support service delivery and accountability. It is our aim that by 2004 all newly created public records will be electronically stored and retrieved.

By the end of 1999, all the Public Record Office's research information will be available to the public electronically.

Partnership

10. We set out our plans to transform local government in the White Paper Modernising Local Government In Touch with the People. We will expand on these by establishing a Central/Local Information Age Government Concordat, which will encourage innovation and co-operation between central and local service providers. It will drive up technology standards across the public sector.

11. We are also looking at how the public service can work in partnership with the private sector and voluntary organisations to deliver public services in innovative ways. We are talking to banks, the Post Office, supermarkets, accountants, interactive broadcasting companies, the information technology industry and others about how they can be partners in service delivery. Alongside this White Paper, the Central IT Unit of the Cabinet Office is publishing on the Internet a fuller description of this work.

On-line services for citizens in Cambridge

Cambridge Online is a community information service providing on-line information and services to anyone living or working in or around Cambridge. Membership includes shops, businesses, community groups, charities and Cambridge residents from all walks of life.

Cambridge Online provides e-mail facilities, help in creating web pages and access bulletin boards, on-line chat and conference channels. It gives access to up-to-date news about local government, local events and services; and advertises job vacancies for the County Council, neighbouring local authorities and charities funded by the County Council.

Future action

Information age government for citizens and business

By 2002, the Government intends, as a minimum, that citizens will be able electronically to:

  • book driving and theory tests.

  • look for work and be matched to jobs.

  • submit self-assessment tax returns.

  • get information and advice about benefits.

  • get on-line health information and advice.

  • use the National Grid for Learning.

  • apply for training loans and student support.

Business will be able electronically to:

  • complete VAT registration and make VAT returns.

  • file returns at Companies House.

  • apply for regional support grants.

  • receive payments from government for the supply of goods and services.

Framework policies across government

12. The Government will take forward its vision of information age government further by publishing a range of new frameworks across government to cover:

  • data standards. We will put in place on the Government Secure Intranet standard definitions and programming tools to allow Departments to develop new systems in a consistent and standardised way, and to present the data they already hold in a common way.

  • digital signatures. These can provide a means of identification and authentication when conducting business with government. We will legislate to ensure legal equivalence between digital and paper and pen signatures and work with financial institutions and others so that their digital signature products can be used to enable government transactions.

  • call centres. A common approach to how people identify themselves when dealing with government call centres.

  • smartcards. These can carry digital signatures and are increasingly capable of supporting many functions on the same card. We are working with banks and other partners to make them available for dealings with government. We will publish a framework for their use in support of service delivery across government.

  • digital TV. How government should best develop services and information for delivery using digital TV.

  • web sites. To bring about a more coherent approach to the use of web sites for giving information and eventually delivering services, we will publish guidelines for government websites by November 1999. We will relaunch the site www.open.gov.uk. so that it provides easier access to information and an updated search facility.

  • government gateways. In the longer term, we aim to link the widest possible range of government services and information through electronic government gateways (or portals). Government agencies and Departments hold very large amounts of data. The variety of systems, some of them now old, makes accessing that data efficiently a key problem. Projects, such as the Department of Social Security's ACCORD, have begun to address these issues. We will build on this experience to manage information in support of better service delivery. A prototype government portal will be developed this year.

  • better on-line services for businesses. The Government intends to make information about regulations more accessible from a single source and to increase greatly the scope for businesses to respond electronically to demands for information from government. This initiative will be taken forward by the new Small Business Service. We are funding a study into the development of a single business register from the Invest to Save Budget to provide electronic identification of businesses for their dealings with government.

Financial transactions between citizens and government

13. New technology provides an opportunity to simplify the increasingly complicated set of financial transactions between citizens and government. The closer integration of the tax and benefit systems, the development of a range of accounts to pay for training, and the creation of the Single Work-Focused Gateway, set new challenges. The Government will ensure as simple a set of transactions for the citizen as possible, avoiding duplication of effort by Departments and achieving best value for our investment. We will explore how we might promote social inclusion by encouraging greater use of the banking system. In support of these aims we propose:

  • to promote access to and use of personal accounts, managed by banks and other institutions, by as broad a section of society as possible.

  • to adopt as an aim across government that payments should usually be made into an account of the citizen's choice.

  • to examine whether greater data sharing between Departments, agencies and local government will help them to provide easier financial dealings with citizens.

Privacy

14. There is concern that information technology could lead to mistaken identity, inadvertent disclosure and inappropriate transfer of data. The Government will address these concerns and will demonstrate our belief that data protection is an objective of information age government, not an obstacle to it.

On privacy, the Government will:

  • work closely with the Data Protection Registrar to ensure that privacy implications of electronic service delivery are fully addressed.

  • carry through our commitment to openness, so that the citizen has relevant information about our initiatives as they are developed and implemented.

  • promote specific codes of practice, on a departmental or inter-departmental basis, for information age government.

  • benefit from the Data Protection Registrar's powers to conduct independent assessments of the processing of personal data.

  • deploy privacy-enhancing technologies, so that data is disclosed, accessed or identified with an individual only to the extent necessary.

  • provide a proper and lawful basis for data sharing where this is desirable, for example in the interest of improved service or fraud reduction consistent with our commitment to protect privacy.

Electronic delivery

15. The Prime Minister announced in 1997 that, by 2002, 25% of dealings with Government should be capable of being done by the public electronically. Progress towards this target will be published on a six-monthly basis from May 1999 on www.citu.gov.uk. The target has been included in Departments' Public Service Agreements. Each Department's target will be reviewed on the basis of its returns for the May report. Where a target is insufficiently challenging it will be revised. We have also set a target that, by March 2001, 90% by value of low value purchases by central government should be carried out electronically.

16. The Government's aim is to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of international best practice. We will set new targets beyond 2002. Before we set the target for 2005, we will ask Departments to identify processes that for operational or policy reasons are incapable of delivery electronically, or for which there is genuinely unlikely to be demand. Those excepted, we propose that 50% of dealings should be capable of electronic delivery by 2005 and 100% by 2008. We believe that all local authorities should set and publish their own targets for electronic delivery and will begin discussions with the Local Government Association in order to bring this about. We are also monitoring the progress Departments are making to deliver information age government in an integrated way. Details of this work are on www.citu.gov.uk.

17. We know that we cannot picture now exactly what information age government will look like in 2008. The pace of technological change is fast and exhilarating. Business will be transformed by e-commerce. Before 2008, there will be further technological break-throughs which cannot be foreseen now. (In 1978, some commentators might not even have predicted the personal computer, let alone the Internet.) The Government's strategy must be flexible enough to take advantage of such developments, rather than locking citizens, business, government and our partners into rigid structures which may be overtaken.

18. But we can reasonably predict some of the elements which are likely to contribute to achieving the 100% target by 2008. Here are ten drivers of information age government:

  • Household access to electronic services through developments such as interactive TV. But there will also be a very wide range of public access points, with advice on hand.

  • Much more user-friendly, inexpensive, and multi-functional technology as TV, telephones and broadcasting converge.

  • As part of this, less dependence on keyboard skills as remote control pads, voice command, touch screens, video-conferencing and other developments make it easier for users to operate and benefit from new technology. But other skills will be built up in schools, in the workplace, and across the community.

  • Continuing dramatic increases in computing power, and in the power of networked computing, together enabling government services to be delivered more conveniently, accurately, quickly and securely.

  • Wide scale take-up of multi-purpose smartcards, with which citizens can identify themselves, use services, safeguard their privacy and, increasingly, make and receive payments. Cards will also evolve into still more powerful technologies.

  • Government forms and other processes which are interactive, guided by on-line help and advice, and collect all the necessary information in one go.

  • Smarter knowledge management across government, which increasingly enables government to harness its data and experience more effectively, and to work in new ways.

  • Use of government web sites and other access points as single gateways, often structured around life episodes, to a whole range of related government services or functions.

  • Repackaging of government services or functions, often through partnerships with the private sector, local government or the voluntary sector, so that they can be provided more effectively.

  • Flexible invest to save approaches, where the huge potential of new technology to increase efficiency is used imaginatively to fund better-designed processes.

19. Such developments will not limit choice, end face-to-face dealings or invade the privacy of the individual. Nor will they, in themselves, turn the complex issues which citizens and businesses face in the real world into simple ones, although they can radically improve services such as medical advice, education and training and crime reduction. Nevertheless, the potential for change is vast. There is no good reason why, by 2008, it should not be as simple and easy to do many of the main dealings with government as it is today to make a phone call or choose between TV programmes.

20. This vision must be turned into reality. We will build on the planned examples of electronic services in paragraph 9 by ensuring that an increasing number of services are capable of being delivered electronically in the next few years. In terms of implementation, the key elements are as follows:

  • A route map and a set of strategic enablers will be provided by the corporate government IT strategy, together with the frameworks for data standards, digital signatures, call centres, smartcards, digital TV, web sites, government gateways and privacy, envisaged in this White Paper.

  • Information age government services and other processes are likely to develop increasingly around clusters of related government functions aligned to the needs of citizens and businesses. As part of this, more services will become available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • This will be given impetus by stronger central co-ordination, to ensure that best practice and consistent standards are applied across government, that all the government bodies with an interest in a particular set of services come together to talk to potential partners, and that they promote compatibility across IT systems and data sets.

  • Progress against targets will be regularly monitored and reported. At the same time, it is important that targets should not be viewed narrowly or purely incrementally. It will be necessary to plan further ahead to make the most of the opportunities for working across boundaries, partnership and service integration.

  • Close consultation and benchmarking will continue with international, private sector and other colleagues. It is essential that the strategy should be implemented in ways which take full account of the changing environment and enable government to learn continuously from best practice elsewhere.

  • Market research and user feedback will improve the design and organisation of services and other processes, and focus them more firmly on citizens and businesses.


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Prepared 30 March 1999