Examination of Witness (Questions 880
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
880. When the Permanent Secretary of the DSS
was here, when we were doing an investigation into SERPS, one
of the things she admitted to was a massive problem in terms of
communication in her department, the IT communication between
different benefits agencies just was not there. Is it your responsibility
to look at these departments and say, "You're not addressing
that issue", or do you rely on the departments themselves
to admit they have got problems in terms of delivering what they
have to do right across Government?
(Ms Steward) The responsibility would rest with each
individual department and agency and their senior management in
that regard. We work very closely with them. We work with them
through their information age government champion. We have a series
of work groups that they would be invited to participate in, including
areas, say, in connection with GSI and in work that they would
do with any of our other major initiatives.
881. One of the most interesting innovations
Government had was to introduce information age champions, as
you have just mentioned. Has there been any review of how that
process has worked?
(Ms Steward) I think the information age champion
process is an ongoing review process in being able to identify
the effectiveness of the way in which we can effectively communicate
with them and have an inclusive role in work that we take forward.
We internally, in the Office of the e-Envoy, also look to see
just how effective we can be in supporting them as well, so collectively
we will continue to review and see what changes may improve any
of the operations.
882. I know the Government has signed interesting
initiatives with Singapore and with other governments. Could you
tell us what that is about, and what the benefits to the UK are?
(Ms Steward) These are memoranda of understanding
that are established with other governments. It builds very much
on what Geoff was talking about before, of being able to exchange
information, experiences, work collaboratively with other governments,
so that we can take advantage of their experiences to take added
value as we try to translate any of our own initiatives, particularly
in some of the areas like online services.
883. I want to ask you some questions about
three difficult areas that may provide challenges to the Government's
target for e-Government. The first is the data protection issues
of human rights. There was a seminar yesterday where the police
were saying that the Data Protection Act issues, and particularly
the European Directive, were causing problems in terms of sharing
information across different government departments. Is that a
problem that you would see? If so, do we need to amend the data
protection regulations we have got in this country?
(Ms Steward) Data protection is an important aspect
of any of the work that we undertake across the Civil Service,
and, particularly where we would use online services, departments
and agencies must adhere to those regulations. I cannot speak
on behalf of the Data Protection Commission, but again the PIU
is actually taking forward a study currently on data protection,
privacy and data sharing, and a much better understanding of what
other opportunities there are available to us to be able to share
data, for the end result of being able to provide improved services
to our citizens.
884. One of the most frustrating things that
I find is having to give my name and address time and time and
time again, not only to Government but to businesses. Would it
not be simpler just to have an ID card like they do in other continental
countries, which can provide the information once and save all
these hassles people have in their daily lives? I have thousands
of cards which I use for different things, so why not have one
(Ms Steward) There are various ways in which we are
looking at being able to make our services more readily available.
We recently released a small pilot of a small system on change
of address exactly for that, to make it easier for people to be
able to notify information, either through commercial providers
who are out there operating currently, or through the Post Office,
so that information can be provided back into Government, and
therefore for us actually to place that in our systems, so it
reduces the amount of time that we need to come back and ask for
the same information.
885. The last area where I think there is a
problem is the skills that we have in this country. My background
is a systems analyst. The project management skills that we have
got in this country are very poor. It is true in other countries
as well that project management skills are not very high. Are
you addressing that through national training programmes? How
are you addressing it within the Civil Service in order to achieve
some of the Government's targets that they have set?
(Ms Steward) We are addressing that. We in fact identified
the need to focus on those through the Government's review of
successful IT projects through last year. There is work going
through now with the Government's National Training Organisation,
through other projects in the marketability of qualifications,
through the Office of Government Commerce which is actually looking
at that in depth as well. So there are particularly targeted areas,
support from the centre for departments and agencies so that they
can up-skill for their individual civil servants who are working
in that area. I also note that it is, as you indicated, a problem
even in industry. To that regard, the Government is working very
closely with industry, through a senior IT forum, so that we can
bring greater awareness and also skills sharing across the Government
and private sector.
886. Your responsibility is to both the DTI
through Patricia Hewitt and to the Cabinet Office through Ian
McCartney. Does that actually cause your section a problem?
(Ms Steward) No, not at all. It is very clear for
us. Patricia Hewitt is our e-Minister and takes leadership and
direction at the political level for that. Ian McCartney is our
Minister for e-Government which really focuses attention on what
needs to be undertaken within Government in our departments and
agencies. It works very effectively, and we have the Prime Minister
at a very high level as well as our champion for this agenda.
887. Has the loss of Alex Allan been a blow
to your office?
(Ms Steward) We of course were sorry to see Alex leaving,
but we have Andrew Pinder as an interim e-envoy, and it is business
as usual for us. We have got a large agenda, a lot of work, and
we are moving forward.
888. We are impressed by the confidence of the
answer. Is there a shred of doubt in your mind that the delivery
targets for the delivery of government services electronically
by set dates are going to be delivered?
(Ms Steward) No.
889. Not a shred?
(Ms Steward) I believe very firmly that the 40 per
cent work to date is very good progress, and if you look at the
United Kingdom's progress against other governments', we are standing
very well. There is still a great deal of work that we need to
undertake going forward and we continue to work very closely with
the departments and agencies, and the Treasury in particular,
to focus attention on that so the momentum is not lost, and we
will be moving to transactions online, which is another major
step forward, but 40 per cent is a very good rate of progress
Chairman: Could I ask you a completely unreconstructed
question. I will not have an Internet banking account, despite
the attractive rates of interest, because I do not trust it. That
is an entirely lamentable but entirely human feeling.
Mr White: It is safer than a Visa card.
890. When the people's panel asked people about
how they want services to be delivered to them, a large number
of people said they wanted to talk to somebody, a lot of elderly
people in particular said they wanted to be able to talk to somebody.
I just had the sense that a world is being created out there where
there may be a mismatch between what people who use services think
they want in terms of how they connect with them and how people
who know where the future is is that an unfair question
to ask you?
(Ms Steward) No, I know what you are saying. In particular,
the Government is not saying every service will only be made available
online. There will continue to be front office services, one-on-one
services, services over the telephone. Even in the people's panel
work we have been clear in hearing the message from our citizens
that they still like to use the telephone for communications and
interaction. We also know that there is a very large number of
people who like to use the Internet, like to use it in their own
homes, or at other facilities where it is convenient at a time
that is convenient to them, not just during the hours when the
office may be open. So choice is a very important issue for us
and for our citizens and we are working to ensure that that occurs.
Again through our Citizen Portal we have Citizen Space, which
is an area where we are asking for feedback from our citizens
to understand in as much clarity as we can have in developing
our services going back to them.
891. If they need feedback and have said they
would like to talk to a human being, that is something you will
take account of?
(Ms Steward) That is correct and that information
is information that individual departments and agencies take account
of in the way in which they prepare and package their services
back to citizens as well.
892. Could I pursue that a little further. Could
you just explain for us how the Citizen Portal works?
(Ms Steward) I am happy to. It is an online portal
and the purpose is to give a single point of entry, some point
where it is easy to be able to make contact with government, with
easy navigation to information that is wrapped around a life episode.
We currently have four of those presentedhaving a baby,
moving house, dealing with crime and going away. And again that
reflects what we have heard from our citizens as the type of information
they find meaningful.
893. Some people have all these altogether,
(Ms Steward) Indeed they do. The individual can come
online from an Internet access point and get information that
is presented in a way that is without bureaucratic speak, so that
it is relevant to them. It is United Kingdom wideit is
not just England, it is Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelandand
it is also localised so that if you are in Scotland you get information
that is relevant to that particular area. Equally important, we
have also translated the information into Welsh so we respect
that particular language requirement.
894. You were saying in answering the Chairman
just now that there is space there also for feedback for people
to state their preferences about how they want to receive information,
among other things?
(Ms Steward) That is correct. We have an area on the
portal which is called "Citizen Space". We invite comment
back in terms of how have they found their experience in dealing
with government online through the Citizen Portal itself, and
other views on what other services they may like as we go forward
with this development.
895. Being even more unreconstructed than the
ChairmanI share his views about online banking, I have
to saybut could you just tell us a bit more about what
role you have, for instance, in monitoring exactly those issues
about how people want to receive information because it seems
to me there is something a bit circular about saying there is
space within the Citizen Portal website to register that, in that
the very people who will be giving their views are those who are
already using the web anyway.
(Ms Steward) That is correct in the sense that the
people who are online are just one part of the community that
are responding to it. Can I invite my colleague, Mr Bob Evans,
who is the project manager for it, who will be able to give you
a more detailed response.
(Mr Evans) We recognise the point you make very much
and we have been very concerned to make sure that we are getting
feedback not just from those people using the site but those people
not using the site and who want to get online. We have got three
different channels for this. First, before we launched the portal
we had a test programme by e-MORI with structured groups of typical
userspregnant women, regular travellers, people like thatto
provide feedback on whether we got the content right, the look
and the feel of the site right, and we got a reasonably positive
response to that. We did some work offline, if you like, to see
whether our design was right. As Ann has said, having gone live
we have these channels for feedback, both comments on the site
itself and also a discussion forum where people can make comments
and suggestions about other things they would like to see. I have
been quite pleased at the number of comments we have received
through that channel and we are making use of that to re-design
the site at the moment. Finally to get the offline feedback, again
we have had e-MORI
running a series of structured group interviews with representative
groups of citizens where they are given a demonstration of the
site and they are asked their views on both the look and feel
and the content of the site.
(Mr Czerniawski) Could I set that in
a slightly wider context. To pick up the point you were making
earlier, E-Government is not just about the presentation of services
online by the UK online portal or any other means. For those people
who, for whatever reason, choose not to access the Internet, who
do not trust online banking, whatever it may be, e-Government
initiatives will improve the internal efficiency of government.
In some ways that is the biggest challenge and opportunity we
have for improving services. Precisely as people make contact
over the counter or make contact by telephone, the people they
deal with will have much better information available and much
better transactions to support. The advantages of e-Government
go well beyond immediate users of online services and, reflecting
that, we are very much tying in that wider e-Government agenda
with the development of PSAs and SDAs so that what government
departments do is what we are interested in making more widely
available and improving internal efficiency. Departments within
that wider PSA process are required to take account of research
on broader citizens' interests and what services they want improved.
896. What is SDA?
(Mr Evans) Public Service Agreements and Service Delivery
897. Can I go a little further on this question
of people. I take the point you make about there being two parts
to this process; the public receiving information, communicating
online but also things happening in the back office, making the
service more efficient, irrespective of how people are accessing
that service. What proportion of the population at the moment
have access to Internet?
(Ms Steward) The latest ONS figures have shown that
32 per cent of the United Kingdom population have access to the
Internet, and I think it is growing steadily. That has increased
from the mid-20s prior to December.
898. Is there any information about the proportions
of people who access Internet in their own homes as opposed to
some other outlet?
(Ms Steward) Yes. I would have to try and refresh
my mind on this. I do not have the figures, but I am happy to
provide them to you. It is a higher proportion than just several
months ago, but I am happy to provide a note to you.
899. I was just thinking of something like NHS
Direct, for instance. I am not sure whether it is currently available
in access points like post offices and whatever, but that is the
intention, is it not?
(Mr Czerniawski) It is available wherever the Internet
is available so public access points in libraries or for citizens'
1 Note by witness: the second reference to e-MORI is
incorrect; the company actually used for this exercise is called
Note: the information requested is available from National Statistics
(www.statistics.gov.uk). An issue dated 19 December 2000 was supplied
by the witness. It states that in the third quarter of 2000, 32
per cent of all UK households could access the Internet from home.
The average for the twelve months October 1999 to September 2000
was 26 per cent. Individual access to the Internet is given as
45 per cent of all adults (at some time; 80 per cent of these
individuals having done so in the previous month). Back