Plans to tackle digital inclusion and get the last third of Britons online have been put on hold as the government struggles to find a new minister who can take the strategy forward.
Paul Murphy, the former minister for digital inclusion, was to have announced a new 'Digital Inclusion Champion' on Tuesday, but his involvement in the expenses scandal, and subsequent disentitlement, means that his position, and that of his Champion, is now open.
Murphy, who was also the Welsh secretary, left the government after he was found to have spent more than £3,000 of tax payers' money renewing his boiler. Prior to the digital inclusion position, Murphy had chaired Cabinet committees on personal data security and information assurance.
Neath MP Peter Hain will take the position of Welsh secretary, but a spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said that it is unclear whether he will have the expertise to take on Murphy's digital inclusion responsibilities as well. She acknowledged the need to replace Murphy with someone close to the issues of digital inclusion.
Murphy published the Digital Inclusion Action Plan for consultation in October, which included the proposal for an independent Digital Inclusion Champion.
The plan also defined the Digital Inclusion strategy as the "direct action" of connecting 17 million excluded UK citizens to the internet, and the " indirect action" of equipping the government to deal with the issue.
The proposals have since been accepted, and the spokeswoman said that they would go ahead without Murphy.
However, apart from the action plan, Murphy was not much of a campaigner for the digitally disadvantaged. His intention instead was to delegate action to the Champion, who would drive forward issues in the public eye, facilitate government conversation and promote cross-sector engagement.
The Champion was intended to maintain a strategic oversight of issues from the point of view of excluded citizens, and work with all sections of society to identify evidence of emerging issues, according to the Action Plan.
Specific responsibilities for the Champion were also laid out in the document, including organising Digital Inclusion awards, conducting regular sector seminars, promoting good practice case studies, and ensuring that all digital inclusion work was made clearly visible via the internet to engage people in online debate.
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