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The Government's big idea to deliver its services digitally has once again taken a thumping after a report found that many of the Government's Web sites are muddled and confusing.

The problem is so bad that six in ten of the Government's 31 "flagship" sites are in need of "immediate attention in one area or another".

And despite the Government's keenness to improve dialogue with voters, it appears that some departments are reluctant for citizens to get in touch, while others can't be bothered to string together a half-decent reply to a simple enquiry.

A report assessing the usability of Government sites from Web development agency Interactive Bureau (IAB), London, discovered, for example, that the Deputy Prime Minister's department failed to provide a general email enquiry point on its site.

While departments such as The Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise, and Immigration & Nationality Directorate, refused to answer a simple enquiry because they demanded "personal details and/or case numbers to be provided in order to generate a response".

Said report author Adrian Porter: "This seems to represent a backward step. While we appreciate the resource implications the advent of email must have had on the Government, surely this is a significant area where the Government can connect with the people, and the people can feel that the Government is listening to them."

Highlighting the (lack of) communication problem that afflicts Government departments, Porter said: "We sent an email to the Foreign Office from its Web site, asking for information, and they replied with an email containing nothing more than a link to their Web site Home Page. We found this amusing, but it was hardly courteous."

Last year, research from IAB concluded that the UK Government's Web sites are a shambles and in urgent need of an overhaul. It found that the Prime Minister's own site was so bad it was described as a "mess".

IAB has recently published a list of the best - and worst - of the UK's top corporate Web sites concluding that, despite some improvements, too many sites "still do not get it" with companies showing "little ambition to get it right".

The Second Annual Report Into Key Government Web Sites is available from
iablondon.com. ®

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UK corporate Web sites show 'little ambition'
UK Govt slammed for duff Web sites

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