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Plans to move gov online 'lack cyber-security', say MPs

Cabinet Office warned not to deliver half-baked effort

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MPs have expressed serious concern about a lack of cyber-security plans detailed in the government's IT and communications strategy.

A Public Accounts Committee report warned that the "ambitious" plans laid out by the Cabinet Office in March this year needed further clarity.

"The strategy only makes one reference to cyber-security. This is particularly concerning given the move to more government services online," the report concludes.

"The government has committed to increase the use of new technologies and sharing of information, which rely on the internet. ERG [the Cabinet Office's Efficiency and Reform Group] should clarify in its implementation plan how cyber-security will be integrated into its strategy for ICT."

The parliamentary committee added that the Cabinet Office needed to be clear about how many cyber-security professionals there were working within government.

It pointed out that the US government had recently admitted it needs to "double its capability to meet a shortfall in skills" in that area of IT.

An implementation plan is expected to be published by the Cabinet Office next month, but the committee warned that Francis Maude's department would not be able to deliver the strategy without backing from ministers across government.

It also needs to convince tech suppliers to respond positively to the changes, which could yet meet opposition.

On a related note, the report called on the Cabinet Office to explain in more detail how it plans to encourage small UK businesses to get involved in government IT procurements.

It also stressed concerns about British citizens being left behind because of the Cabinet Office's bold "digital-by-default" plans.

"The government plans to move more public services online and, rightly, to stress the importance of designing services around the needs of the user. However, approximately nine million people have never used the internet, and they must not be excluded," it said.

"ERG and other relevant departments should withhold sign-off of additional online services until they are satisfied that the service is designed for users."

It said the efficiency reform group should continue to make online services accessible via libraries, which have recently faced closures and cuts, as well as through post offices and other public spaces.

Part of the strategy involves the creation of a single domain for taxpayers to access public services online.

A prototype is currently being developed by a small team of coders based in Lambeth in South London. The project is yet to secure any further funding for future development, however.

Similarly, the Cabinet Office's plans to introduce a new "ID assurance" scheme – which may hook into a post-Directgov website as early as summer 2012 – could require a new Act to be passed in Parliament.

All of which underlines the committee's warning that Maude's department cannot go it alone with its tech strategy. ®

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