Documents considered by the Committee on 26 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

4   European eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015



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COM(10) 743

Commission Communication: The European eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015, Harnessing ICT to promote smart, sustainable & innovative Government

Legal base
Document originated15 December 2010
Deposited in Parliament22 December 2010
DepartmentCabinet Office
Basis of considerationEM of 18 January 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (31368) 9981/10 : HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010)
To be discussed in Council27 May 2011 Telecoms Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


4.1  Commission Communication 9981/10 (COM(10) 245) sets out the Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe (which replaces the earlier i2010 Strategy). It is the first of seven flagship initiatives under the "Europe 2020" strategy.[16] The "Europe 2020" strategy, which was launched by the Commission in March 2010, is a ten year strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, designed to prepare the EU for the challenges that it will face over the next 10 years. It was endorsed by the 25-26 March 2010 European Council.

4.2  In unveiling its Digital Agenda for Europe[17] on 19 May 2010, the Commission said that implementing its ambitious agenda would contribute significantly to the EU's economic growth and spread the benefits of the digital era to all sections of society. The Commission noted that half of European productivity growth over the past 15 years was already driven by information and communications technologies and this trend was likely to accelerate. At that time, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said:

"We must put the interests of Europe's citizens and businesses at the forefront of the digital revolution and so maximise the potential of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to advance job creation, sustainability and social inclusion. The ambitious strategy set out today shows clearly where we need to focus our efforts in the years to come. To fully realise the potential of Europe's digital future we need the full commitment of Member States, the ICT sector and other vital economic players."

4.3  The Digital Agenda focuses on seven priority areas, and foresees some 100 follow-up actions, of which 31 would be legislative. The seven areas are:

  • creating a digital Single Market;
  • greater interoperability;
  • boosting internet trust and security;
  • much faster internet access;
  • more investment in research and development;
  • enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion; and
  • applying information and communications technologies to address challenges facing society like climate change and the ageing population.

4.4  Full details of the Communication and the Government's views are set out in our Report of 8 September 2010.[18]

The Commission Communication

4.5  The Commission says that, at a time of highly constrained public resources, ICT can help the public sector develop innovative ways of delivering its services to citizens while unleashing efficiencies and driving down costs. It notes that implementation of the first European eGovernment Action Plan[19] has seen Member State governments exchange good practice, and resulted in a number of large-scale pilot projects which are developing concrete solutions for rolling out cross-border eGovernment services. The availability of innovative technologies such as social networks has increased the expectations of citizens in terms of responsiveness when accessing all kinds of services on line. However, cross-border eGovernment services are few and, even where eGovernment services are offered, the majority of EU citizens are reluctant to use them. There is, the Commission says, therefore:

"clearly a need to move towards a more open model of design, production and delivery of online services, taking advantage of the possibility offered by collaboration between citizens, entrepreneurs and civil society. The combination of new technologies, open specifications, innovative architectures and the availability of public sector information can deliver greater value to citizens with fewer resources."

4.6  The Commission is therefore proposing a second eGovernment Action Plan which aims to realise "the ambitious vision" contained in the Declaration made at the 5th Ministerial eGovernment Conference (the "Malmö Declaration").[20] According to this ambitious vision, by 2015 European public administrations will be:

"recognised for being open, flexible and collaborative in their relations with citizens and businesses. They use eGovernment to increase their efficiency and effectiveness and to constantly improve public services in a way that caters for user's different needs and maximises public value, thus supporting the transition of Europe to a leading knowledge-based economy."

4.7  The Malmö Declaration sets out four political priorities for all European public administrations over the next five years:

  • citizens and businesses are empowered by eGovernment services designed around users' needs and developed in collaboration with third parties, as well as by increased access to public information, strengthened transparency and effective means for involvement of stakeholders in the policy process;
  • mobility in the Single Market is reinforced by seamless eGovernment services for the setting up and running of a business and for studying, working, residing and retiring anywhere in the European Union;
  • efficiency and effectiveness is enabled by a constant effort to use eGovernment to reduce the administrative burden, improve organisational processes and promote a sustainable low-carbon economy;
  • the implementation of the policy priorities is made possible by creating the appropriate key enablers and by establishing the necessary legal and technical preconditions.

4.8  The Commission says Governments need to provide better public services with fewer resources, and that each of the above political priorities works towards that aim, as well as providing new and better ways to engage with citizens, citing the emergence of innovative technologies such as "service-oriented architectures" (SOA), or "clouds" of services, together with more open specifications which allow for greater sharing, re-use and interoperability reinforce the ability of ICT to play a key role in this quest for efficiency in the public sector.

4.9  The Action Plan aims at maximising the complementary nature of national and European policy instruments and supporting the transition to a new generation of more open, flexible, seamless and collaborative ICT-enabled public services across Europe. It envisages three types of measures:

  • where Member States are leading and rely on their own resources, the Commission will help by supporting and coordinating activities; measures proposed will focus on setting targets with the Member States and on how to achieve these targets by means of exchanging best practice, conducting studies and benchmarking;
  • where the Commission and Member States work jointly to develop, deploy or improve cross-border services, the Commission will take the lead where joint resources are used, while Member States will bear the final responsibility for implementing activities using their own resources. The measures proposed will include research and development, pilot projects, collaborative development and transfer of knowledge to the market; and
  • where the Commission can create enabling conditions, the measures proposed will include adopting legal instruments, setting standards, formulating common frameworks, implementing generic tools, providing re-useable technical building blocks to ensure interoperability.

4.10  The Communication then examines a number of action areas, including:


The Commission's actions aim support Member States developing user-centric public services and ensuring inclusiveness and accessibility, involving best practice sharing and awareness-raising, making available online access to information on laws, regulations, policies and finance, all Member States enabling their citizens to have electronic access to personal data held on them when available electronically and involvement of citizens and businesses in policy-making processes.


The Commission requests Member States to ensure sustainable follow-up to the existing European pilots into eProcurement and the Services Directive, and restates its intention to issue a White Paper on the interconnectivity of eProcurement services across Europe. Personal mobility is another area where the Commission will support the exchange of best practice between Member States and will also act to coordinate efforts jointly to develop and establish interoperable cross-border services. Supplementary to this, the Commission ask Member States to continue to work to provide interoperable cross-border services for citizens wishing to study, work, reside, receive health care and retire within the European Union. Dependent on well defined-needs, Member States are asked to agree on a number of key cross-border services to be rolled out between 2012-2015 and identify the appropriate life events/stages in which these services will be supporting.


The Commission will facilitate the exchange of experiences, encourage re-use of successful solutions and applications and explore new approaches to support Member States in their efforts to improve organisational processes in delivering eGovernment. These actions relate to the Commission Communication on European Interoperability for Public Services.[21]


Actions on key enablers start with the Commission's proposal for the revision of the eSignatures Directive with a view to providing a legal framework for cross-border recognition and interoperability of secure eAuthentication systems. In relation to this action, the Commission will also propose a Council Decision to ensure mutual recognition of eIdentification and eAuthentication across the European Union. Finally, the Commission encourages Member States to apply and roll out eIdentity solutions based on the results of European pilots and related projects.


The Commission will launch a study and recommend actions in the field of innovative solutions, such as Cloud Computing for government services.[22] The Commission will further its activities under existing programmes to support Member States in the preparation for the upgrade to Internet Protocol version 6. The Commission will use pilots to demonstrate how public administrations can deliver more flexible and efficient ways of delivering services.


The Commission will establish a High-Level Expert Group of Member States representatives responsible for national eGovernment strategies. Participants are requested to report on achievements met and, where appropriate, alignment of national strategies. The Action Plan will be evaluated by the Commission and the Plan will be updated subsequently.

The Government's view

4.11   In his Explanatory Memorandum of 18 January 2011, the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Francis Maude) explains that, though the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has responsibility for the overall Digital Agenda for Europe, he has primary responsibility for Government's ICT Strategy, Digital Delivery, Transparency and Digital Engagement.

4.12  The Minister begins by noting that the objectives outlined in the European eGovernment Action Plan have implications for other areas of public sector, including those in the Devolved Administrations:

"The Scottish Executive remarked on the ambitious proposals of the Action Plan and has requested the Government to keep the Executive involved in the implementation of the Action Plan using existing channels. The Executive seek clarification as to how the UK Government will involve the Executive in taking forward domestic policy in the areas of eIdentity and Authentication, the improvement of online access and interoperability frameworks.

"The Northern Ireland Executive have specifically expressed support for the Commission's proposals for helping the public sector develop innovative ways of delivering its services to citizens. The Northern Ireland Government conclude by stressing the necessity for continued involvement associated with the Action Plan and their willingness to be involved in the UK's continued collaboration with the EU."

4.13  He then describes the actions outlined in the Communication as "ambitious but achievable in the 2011-2015 timeframe", and says that there are no fundamental policy implications in the Action Plan. Several of the actions are, he says already underway in the UK and a number of others are under consideration as part of the Government's ICT Strategy and associated workstreams across the Cabinet Office and other departments.

4.14  He then comments in detail as follows:


"As part of the Government's response to Martha Lane Fox's Strategic Review of Directgov, we will be looking to further develop the provision of online services and increase their take-up by supporting initiatives such as the Race Online 2012 Campaign which is aimed at getting more people online. Services already exist in the UK whereby users are offered the functionality to monitor the progress of their transactions, for instance, users are able to see the progress of their online Tax Self-Assessment and receive email notifications when it is filed. The Government welcomes the Commission's actions to support Member States development of these services and we look forward to exchanging best practice with other countries.


"The Government's Big Society Agenda furthers the aims of co-production between government administrations and civil society. The UK's landscape is growing whereby collaboration is embraced. The recent 'Spending Challenge' initiative received over 100,000 ideas, including more than 63,000 from the public sector. The initiative resulted in a number of key objectives in the Chancellor's Spending Review that will now be taken forward as policy. The Government looks forward to exchanging best practice with the rest of Europe and we will be looking to ensure the common targets are realistic and achievable.


"The UK is seen as a leader in the availability and re-use of public sector information, so much so that the Government's website '' is cited in the Communication as an example of work already in practice. We have already been exchanging information on experience with Member States on this topic and welcome a more comprehensive effort facilitated by the Commission. The Cabinet Office will work with The National Archives to agree on the EU common indicators for re-use on behalf of the UK but do not foresee any policy implications.


"Transparency is a priority for Government and we welcome the efforts of the Commission to further the transparency of laws, regulations, policies and finance. As part of departments' Structural Reform Plans, their websites already offer information online relating to their structures and financial spend; the names, grades and pay of Senior Civil Servants; and current policies and resources on current legislation.

"The Government, in accordance with the existing data protection legal framework, ensures that users of eGovernment services are provided with 'fair processing' information to outline what and how their personal data is to be processed. This ensures that the individual knows exactly what is going to happen to their information and how it is going to be used. The Government will work with Member States to further explore the action in relation to administrations electronically informing citizens when their data is being processed by automatic means. There may be situations, for example, in relation to the prevention, investigation and detection of criminal offences, where it might be prejudicial to give notice. The Government is cautious that this provision may be cost-prohibitive.


"The Government is presently exploring ways of consulting interested parities in the policy-making process, such as the Government's Spending Challenge initiative. The Treasury Committee Report following the Spending Review 2010 Inquiry stated that while it is worthwhile to seek the views of public servants and the general public, such consultations cannot be a substitute for longer-term engagement with public sector employees and responsiveness to input from stakeholder groups. The Government will be pleased to share our experiences with other Member States on this theme in order to help shape future measures proposed by the Commission.

"The Government will seek further clarification as to what level and size of service the Commission outline in their actions to support 'citizen initiatives', but we are confident that through the sharing of best practice and experience a resolution can be agreed.


"The Government looks forward to the outcomes of the pilots mentioned in the Action Plan but we are cautious that the Commission must not allow the outcomes to become de facto for the sake of it. The roll out of future cross-border services must be sustainable and based on commonly agreed standards and business processes, not simply those based on pilots outcomes carried out by a number of Member States. The Government will work to ensure UK interests are safeguarded in this respect by ensuring departments are engaged with the decision-making process in the coming years.


"The Government welcomes the efforts by the Commission to facilitate the exchanging of best practices and creating the environment for Member States to jointly develop common services. The Government is already committed to delivering a number of services in the fields mentioned in the Communication. As a result of the Government's ICT Project Review, we look to find synergies of services across departments, advocating where possible the re-use of solutions to reduce costs.


"The Government is encouraged by the Commission's commitment to a study into the demand of new cross-border services, out of which we will look to analyse with other Member States which, if any, would be suitable for development. Bearing in mind the current constraints on public expenditure, the UK is unlikely to enter into any future pilots unless the business case for involvement justifies the cost.


"The majority of the actions relate to internal Commission deliverables that will not impact the UK. The UK will look to examine the process and function in which the Commission will facilitate the staff exchange of eGovernment professionals. Depending on the finalised objectives, timings and costs involved, the UK would look to consider participation as part of the Government's ongoing IT Profession agenda.


"Similar to the 'once-only' principle, the Government's work on the 'Tell Us Once' programme is already underway. Further research and best practice sharing on the European stage into how citizens only have to inform the appropriate authority once [of] their details when using a government service (rather than multiple times) would be welcomed.


"The UK is seen as a global leader for understanding the complexities involved in setting targets to deliver greener Government ICT and we welcome the Commission's efforts in undertaking a study and working with Member States to establish commonly agreed indicators and procedures. The Government would have welcomed the target date of 2013 to have been set sooner given the priority of global carbon reduction.


"The Government welcomes the Commission's action on exchanging best practice and promoting re-use and sharing of existing solutions for government services. The Government believes the recommendations set out in the European Interoperability Framework accommodates the upcoming ICT Strategy and associated workstreams such as the Standards and Architecture Framework. We are confident the Government will meet the 2013 deadline to ensure alignment between the frameworks.


"The Government has noted the Commission's plans and will work with stakeholders to ensure any proposals are subject to full consideration across Government before agreement is given. The Government is currently considering its policy towards eIdentity and eAuthentication and has issued a 'Prior Implementation Notice' relating to the development of a new concept for a citizen trust framework. Cabinet Office lead on the development of the new concept and roll out of eIdentity solution design. Departments will roll out the eIdentity solutions in accordance with that design.


"The Government looks forward to the Commission's initiative under innovation. The Government is working to deliver its Structural Reform milestone of the creation of a Government ICT Skunkworks team whereby innovative solutions are requested by departments and delivered by a team outside the normal confines of service delivery.[23] The Government will look to the Commission's plans for developing pilots in the area of innovation, and if worthwhile the Government will consider participation. The Government has been actively pursuing development principles associated with the implementation of a Government Cloud.


"Cabinet Office will represent the UK at the High Level Group outlined in the Commission's action, reporting where necessary on our achievements and fulfilment of obligations."


4.15  The Minister notes that there are no fundamental policy implications in the Action Plan. However, he also notes some unease on the part of the Scottish Executive, particularly with regard to eIdentity and eAuthentication, and a request for clarification as to how the UK Government will involve the Executive in taking forward domestic policy in the areas of eIdentity and Authentication, the improvement of online access and interoperability frameworks. His only comment thus far is that his Department leads on the development of the new concept and the roll out of any eIdentity solution design, and that Departments will roll out their eIdentity solutions in accordance with that design.

4.16  Looking ahead, there are four months between now and when Council Conclusions are due to be adopted. We would like the Minister to write to us before the Council meeting to outline how the questions raised by the Scottish Executive have been addressed, and how the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are safeguarded in the prospective conclusions.

4.17  In the meantime we shall retain the document under scrutiny.

16   See for details. Back

17   See for full background. Back

18   See headnote: (31368) 9981/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010). Back

19   eGovernment Action Plan 2006; for full information, see  Back

20   See for the text of the Declaration. This built on the previous bi-annual Ministerial meetings of Brussels in 2001, Como in 2003, Manchester in 2005 and Lisbon in 2007. See for further information. Back

21   Which we consider at chapter 5 of this Report. Back

22   Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol often used to represent the Internet in flow charts and diagrams. A cloud service has three distinct characteristics that differentiate it from traditional hosting: it is sold on demand, typically by the minute or the hour; it is elastic - a user can have as much or as little of a service as they want at any given time; and the service is fully managed by the provider (the consumer needs nothing but a personal computer and Internet access).


23   The term 'skunk works' is used to describe an autonomous team or project that operates outside an organisation's established structure. It was coined by US engineering company Lockheed Martin to describe its practice of developing fighter jets rapidly and with no formal contract in place. See for further information on Government ICT Skunkworks. Back

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