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Martha pushes online government as DirectGov CEO pushes off

Lane Fox demands 'digital champion with sharp teeth'

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The government’s digital darling Martha Lane Fox has claimed that billions of pounds could be saved if the Coalition agrees to her advice to shift more services online.

Fox said that the team running the Directgov website should be a “citizens’ champion with sharp teeth” and at the same time government portals should be simplified to help cut costs.

“Shifting 30 per cent of government service delivery contacts to digital channels would deliver gross annual savings of more than £1.3bn, rising to £2.2bn if 50 per cent of contacts shifted to digital,” she said in a report released today.

Meanwhile, Jayne Nickalls – who headed up the Directgov site – surprisingly quit her job last week, after five years with the service.

"I'm leaving my role as Directgov CEO. It's been an amazing journey and thanks to everyone who has supported Directgov in this start up phase," she said on Twitter last Saturday.

In her report, Fox called on a new digital “CEO” for the Cabinet Office to oversee government online services with the power to direct all online spending by the Coalition. That's an idea which perhaps didn't sit well with Nickalls.

“Development of a shared web services infrastructure should be developed by the government CIO as part of the ‘G Digital’ project with Directgov not in the lead but as the key customer,” said Fox.

Intriguingly, the dotcom millionaire who co-founded Lastminute.com, also considered whether government might share some of the BBC’s web service infrastructure, which strikes us as odd given the big cuts the Corporation, undersigned by the BBC Trust, has earmarked for its online estate over the next two years.

Worryingly for some, Fox also recommended that Directgov should adopt a Web2.0 approach to bring government transactional services into websites where members of the public spend much of their time, such as via Facebook.

“To build citizen trust and understanding in this new approach,” Fox recommended, “Directgov should develop a branded quality assurance ‘kite mark’ for government applications.”

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude gave the report a lukewarm welcome and said there was “no excuse for not making quality online services the default solution for providing services for people needing government services."

However, some taxpayers across the country have expressed concern about the Coalition’s apparent obsession with social media.

"This does not mean we will abandon groups that are less likely to access the internet: we recognise that we cannot leave anyone behind. Every single government service must be available to everyone – no matter if they are online or not," said Maude.

It’s important to note that Fox’s recommendations somewhat echo that of Number 10’s previous incumbent.

In March this year, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans to create a personalised web page for every UK citizen to access all public services online in a single location, which was in fact the original plan for Directgov.

But Brown’s “Mygov” centralised dashboard, which was supposed to help save money by cutting face-to-face services, never saw the light of day.

Directgov launched in April 2004, and the website now claims around 28 million hits per month. ®

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