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Maude reckons UK.gov web makeover will save £1.8bn annually

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The Cabinet Office claimed today that shoving central government services online will save the UK roughly £1.8bn a year. The 7.5 million or so taxpayers in Blighty who are yet to use the internet may feel slightly miffed.

The potential cost saving was the headline figure waved around by Francis Maude's department this morning as it launched its Government Digital Strategy report. It found that about 82 per cent of the UK adult population is online, but claimed that very few people used the interwebs to access government services.

In October, the Cabinet Office replaced New Labour's Directgov with the single domain website GOV.UK. The plan is to eventually shift all of Whitehall's websites under the GOV.UK banner in a move that Maude hopes will lead to more British citizens actually accessing gov services online.

At present, there are 650 "transactional services" available - one of the most popular of these is the system provided by the DVLA to allow motorists to apply for tax discs online and so on. But it claimed "few people" used other agencies' "digital options".

Internet-based services offered by government departments are expected to undergo a major redesign by April 2014. Meanwhile, the "corporate publishing activities" of the 24 departments in Whitehall are expected to move over to GOV.UK in March next year. Agencies and quangos will follow in March 2014.

But local government services, the NHS and the Ministry of Fun's broadband expansion plans are all left out of the Cabinet Office's strategy.

It's also now clear that the millions still not online, or unable to go online, will be harangued into using the digital services. The Cabinet Office tried to wrap this in cotton wool by stating:

It is important we do not leave anyone behind in this move to a digital by default approach. Departments will recognise and understand the needs of people who can't use digital services. We will provide appropriate support for these people to use digital services and other ways to access services or people who need them.

But Maude's department is not explicitly seeking, in this strategy at least, to work out "ways to increase the digital capability of UK citizens". Instead, the Cabinet Office is fixated with getting more transactions carried out online.

It claimed the "government will save money if demand for higher cost channels decreases".

Many taxpayers across the land are likely to disagree with such a strategy, however, as folk prefer to sort out their affairs offline. It's arguably the biggest challenge for GOV.UK - to convince people that its service is superior to that of Directgov.

Maude is also following the example of Britain's admen, who are apparently responding "to their customers' attention shifting online". But then, advertisers don't tend to care so much about the disabled (28 per cent in the UK still not online) and the elderly (41 per cent of over-65s still not accessing the internet).

The report unsurprisingly also once again bigged up the idea of transactions being offloaded to the private sector. Here's an interesting nugget from the strategy:

Over two thirds of the 7.65 million Self Assessment transactions received online by HMRC are submitted via third-party software and service providers.

Whitehall departments handle about 1 billion transactions each year, apparently. But the Cabinet Office argues that because the current digital services offered by central government are pretty crappy, taxpayers don't immediately rush to access the relevant website, often preferring to pick up the phone.

Maude has been listening closely to the Googles and Facebooks, which have product managers overseeing the delivery of their digital services. The Cabinet Office said the government would "adopt the same model" by appointing so-called Service Managers to ensure that departmental websites are marketed well.

The full report can be viewed here. ®

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