The UK government has lost ground in its use of the Web to other European governments, a National Audit Office Report said today.
The government watchdog blames flagging central impetus for the embarrassing failure.
The report highlights that "in the period 1995 to 1996 Britain was ahead of other European governments and much of private business in the UK in developing a central public access Web site (called open.gov.uk) and in creating a basic Web presence for a large number of agencies."
However it says that "central impetus has now flagged and British government Web sites currently looked disconnected and relatively hard to navigate."
This failure flies in the face of UK prime minister Tony Blair's determination to make the UK an ecommerce force - leading by government example with plans to fully embrace electronic government.
By 2008, the government has said it the wants the option of all transactions between citizen and government to be done electronically. By 2002, he pledged that a quarter should be capable of being conducted electronically.
Departments and agencies responses to the government's plans for more joined-up patterns of 'information age government' are condemned as "patchy and relatively slow."
Although most central government agencies have external Web sites, many are not regularly updated and are in rudimentary electronic brochure mode with few interactive capabilities.
Singled out for criticism is the Department of Social Security Web sites, which "lack any coherent overall plan and are run on very low budgets with infrequent redesigns and without many facilities."
There is also no capability for citizens to conduct transaction on the Web or use email.
The Web sites of the Department of Trade and Industry are praised for being well run and becoming more central to many agencies modes of operating. It is expected to easily meet the 25 per cent electronic transactions target by 2002.
The report identifies reasons for progress not being made. They include: The lack market pressure as experienced in the private sector; low Web based spending levels; and lack of staff with new media expertise. UK departments also remain very cautious in making the investment necessary to build cost-effective and well-used Intranets.
Last week at a conference on holistic government, Sir Richard Wilson, Cabinet Office secretary, admitted: "I don't think we use the Internet anything like enough," but claimed there had been "big strides with Web sites."
This NAO report was the first to be made available on the Web.
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