Select Committee on Public Accounts Sixteenth Report

Conclusions and Recommendations

1.  After ten years of uncoordinated growth, the Government does not know exactly how many websites it operates, although it could be as many as 2,500. The Cabinet Office and the Central Office for Information are reducing the number of websites, beginning with the closure of 951 by 2011. To prevent a recurrence of the proliferation of government websites, no new ones should be established without the agreement of the Government's Chief Information Officer in the Cabinet Office.

2.  Over a quarter of government organisations still do not know the costs of their websites, making it impossible to assess whether they are value for money. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council should agree a methodology for identifying the costs of websites, to be applied by all departments and agencies by the end of the next financial year. An analysis of these costings should be included in the Delivery and Transformation Group's Transformational Government annual report.

3.  16% of government organisations have no data about how their websites are being used, inhibiting website improvements. The Central Office for Information, together with the Cabinet Office, should develop a methodology and a single set of measures for analysing user data such as that used by Transport for London to make improvements in its services. The agreed methodology and the measures should be applied by all departments by the end of 2008-09.

4.  The quality of government websites has improved only slightly since 2002. The Cabinet Office and the Central Office for Information should establish and agree with the CIO Council a single set of quality standards for government websites, which should be implemented by all departments. These should include the performance of internal search engines and facilities that allow the public to provide feedback on public services.

5.  The website is set to become one of the main ways of delivering public services and so must be reliable and maintained to a high standard. In taking over responsibility for from April 2008, the Department for Work and Pensions should commission regular independent reviews of the risks and progress of the site's development. Given the importance of to public service delivery, the results should be shared with the Cabinet Office and the National Audit Office.

6.  One third of government websites do not comply with the Government's own user accessibility standards, making it difficult for people with disabilities to use the sites. In moving services and information from departmental websites to and and reorganising the material left on departmental sites, all government websites should meet the accepted industry standard of accessibility by 2011.

7.  The Government does not know how much it is saving through internet services, nor whether any savings are being redeployed to improve services for people who do not or cannot use the internet. Expansion of online services must not lead to a diminution of services for those without internet access. Government organisations must establish how much they should invest in each of the range of delivery channels at their disposal. The CIO Council should require all departments and agencies to develop channel strategies, which take into account the needs of those without internet access, by the end of the next financial year, and to update them every three years.

8.  There is a risk that some people will not benefit from the Government's drive to expand the use of the internet for delivering public services and social exclusion may be reinforced. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills sponsors 6,000 UK online centres to help people, including those on low incomes and with low levels of education, access public services online. The Department should specify the levels of service that users can expect from the centres, such as basic IT training and personal support in accessing and using government websites.

9.  Government organisations have yet to decide how they should engage with intermediaries, such as family members, friends or representatives, who access online services on behalf of others. There are risks associated with establishing intermediaries' identities and their right to act on behalf of others. In 2007, the Cabinet Office commissioned research on this subject, which the CIO Council should use to agree common principles for engaging with intermediaries, to be adopted by all government departments.

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Prepared 29 April 2008