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Whitehall plans to encourage businesses to compete with Government to offer citizens eGov services are to go ahead - despite an official, three-month consultation attracting just one response from the general British public.

The lack of citizen input into the Office of the e-Envoy's proposals has emerged only through analysis of the consulation responses, which were published on the e-Envoy's website on Friday.

It also raises serious questions about how Government engages the public in issues of how public service are delivered, and also whether this is a viable outcome on which to base policy.

The - br>136 KB PDF">draft policy framework, issued by the e-Envoy's Office in May, suggested that using 'intermedaries' between government and citizen would foster more 'customer-centric' e-services and drive their take-up.

After a public consultation seeking comments from potential intermediaries and possible users of these services, a grand total of 49 written responses were received, of which almost half were from the private sector.

Public sector and voluntary organisations also submitted comments, making up around half of the responses.

Input from private citizens was consigned to one individual.

Introducing the report summarising the consultation responses (published here), Cabinet Office Minister Douglas Alexander commented: "There is evidently widespread interest in, and support for, creating a mixed economy in eGovernment service delivery." He added that responses had demonstrated "the need for further clarification and practical guidance" and studying the comments, this is certainly the case.

Beside general support for the view that delivery and take-up of government e-services could be improved through intermediaries, responses repeatedly highlighted concerns about the implications of OeE's policy proposals for the public.

According to the paper, "Many respondents commented on the likelihood of intermediaries choosing to provide the most commercially advantageous services in terms of cost of provision or customers' ability to pay", which had the potential to create "greater social exclusion and higher transaction costs associated with public sector service delivery."

Others expressed concern at there being "no clear discussion in the policy of any regulatory framework for intermediaries". Many commented on the lack of clear incentives for citizens and "several respondents commented that the policy did not provide the 'practical guidelines to assist' that it promised."

Others questioned the Government's motives, with the e-Envoy's Office reporting: "Several respondents were sceptical that the policy's intent was to deliver better services to the public, and believed rather that it was intended to save money and allowed private profit to influence service delivery."

In light of the feedback, the OeE is now developing "Implementation Guidelines" that should be available in their "first iteration" by the year end, with the stated objective of guiding public bodies and intermediaries "through the early stages of thinking and planning for intermediation".

Poor responses from the public in government consultations are not new.

Earlier this year it emerged that a three-month consultation into wider sharing of citizens' personal data by the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit received 60 responses, of which just three came from the public.

Subsequent analysis of the response by the Lord Chancellor's Department said that the small number of individuals responding made it "impossible" to gauge informed public reaction to the proposals, and that the results could not "confidently be used as a firm basis for taking forward policy".

The Cabinet Office today maintained that citizens had given input into the consultation - albeit via intermediaries.

A spokesperson said the consultation "received many responses from voluntary and private organisations representing millions of clients and customers which they serve every day."

"In addition, a number of people responding on behalf of their representative organisations also responded in their own right as private citizens", the spokesperson added.

"The Office of the e-Envoy has also conducted primary consumer research to establish public interest in e-Government services delivered via a mixed economy and will continue to liaise with respondents when drawing up the Implementation Guidelines, addressing practical concerns."

© eGov monitor Weekly

eGov monitor Weekly is a free e-newsletter covering developments in UK eGovernment and public sector IT over the last seven days. To register go here.

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