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e-Govt not solving ‘digital divide’, says NAO

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The UK Government needs to do more to prevent the "digital divide" widening still further, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

In particular, it warns that older people could be left behind as the Government presses ahead with plans to wire up government services and departments.

A report, due to be presented to MPs today, finds that many government departments and agencies are taking steps to make their Web sites more 'user friendly', especially for older people.

However, it points out that these improvements aren't up to scratch with many government Web sites still not using design features that would make it easier for older people to use them.

And following a review of some 65 Web sites - all of which were found lacking - the Office of the e-Envoy has now begun work to make them more useable.

The NAO also reckons more needs to be done to encourage older people to use government e-services if those services are to provide value for money.

In a statement the head of the NAO, Sir John Bourn, said: "Older people are major users of public services but, as a section of society, are far less likely to access those services electronically.

"If government is to take full advantage of the potential of technology, it must make sure its e-services are accessible to all and work to avoid a 'digital divide'.

"More older people would be willing to use new technologies if they saw the benefit to them of doing so," he said.

The government expects to invest some £6bn in e-services by March 2006 to ensure that all of its services are available electronically. The report points out that while steps have been taken to encourage people to use e-services, it needs to be more proactive to tackle the dangers of a "digital divide". ®

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