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E-envoy declares broadband Britain a success, claims credit

Or something like that, anyway...

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UK e-Envoy Andrew Pinder has decided to bunk off his homework this month, and instead of focusing on "specific areas" of his getting Britain online strategy, has decided to "pause and reflect on the increasing extent to which the changes it [the strategy] is bringing about, are being felt across all aspects of our national life."

So those of us who haven't been detecting the impact of young Andrew in all aspects of our national life clearly haven't been paying attention. We have of course tried to pay attention, but on looking here, where Andrew keeps his monthly reports to the PM, we can't help concluding that he seems to spend most of them reflecting, and that he seems to have bunked off his September report entirely. My office, after school, Pinder minor.

This month's report, which you'll find here, refers to the regular publication of the "detailed progress report on each of the commitments made" to get Britain online, but these, as we've noted in the past, are more or less meaningless. They are, as you'll see by looking here, for a breakdown of the status of "Take forward an action plan with industry to drive broadband roll-out and take-up," merely a list of things with either "on track" or "completed" next to them. Well Andrew, we've only got your word for that, and if you're fibbing we're not going to catch you out until you miss the 2005 deadline.

But yes, don't we have Andrew there waiting to explain how successful his strategy has been in bringing about changes across all aspects of our national life? How so? "Over the last month," he writes, "we have seen a range of very different practical examples of how new technology is changing the way people engage with the public sector." And he gives four examples.

First, there's the Iraq dossier: "The demand proved extremely large and world-wide, even contributing to an overload of the Internet services in the London area. By working together, 9 Government sites managed to weather unprecedented demand and served up 200,000 copies of the dossier on the day. Over a million in total were distributed including via media sites. UK online played an important part in this joint effort."

Pardon us if we don't consider being able to sweat your way through a spike of heavy download demand without your sites falling over entirely as a major step towards e-Britain. It's not what you do every day Andrew, it's something you do occasionally, and you'd be smart to outsource it if you anticipate it being a biggie. Focus man, this is not relevant.

Next, there's the use in the Soham case "by the courts and prison services of a video link between Holloway Prison and Peterborough Crown Court." Do we miss something, or is he really claiming credit for a court using video-conferencing? He continues: "This is an example of a number of initiatives being taken forward in the crime and justice community. The use of text messaging and pager reminders to ensure witness time is not wasted, and plans to use interactive digital television and citizen facing portals, providing information and supporting transactions in both the justice and police worlds, are other key examples." Well OK, some of this is happening (here's a test of texting in Chelmsford, for example, but we'd suspect a lot of it as still being just gleams in somebody's eye, and not necessarily anything to do with Andrew, anyway.

Electronic tax returns then? Well, numbers of electronic submissions have doubled since last year, despite a couple of embarrassing glitches. Which is nice, and would be even nicer if the Inland Revenue's electronic filing system had anything specifically to do with Andrew. And even nicer if The Register weren't still getting emails like this (name and address supplied):

"Just to remind you, the 'Government Gateway (your single access to all Government services in the UK) will NOT offer you a single logon if you have the audacity to use anything else than Internet Exploiter. You cannot register for the single logon with, say, Mozilla, because by entire coincidence this STILL does not work.

"So much for interoperability. We will 'consider Open Source' and 'Open Standards' in procurement - as long as you use MS only software to get past the initial funnel. Duh."

Well OK, what about example number four? This is the real big one - you can get UK online on Sky TV now. And "90% [of users] said that they were very or quite likely to return to this service." Whew - that will provide us with some comfort if/when the delivery of key electronic services by government starts to go pear-shaped. ®

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