Documents considered by the Committee on 27 April 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


6   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
DepartmentCabinet Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 24 March 2011
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-xiv (2010-11), chapter 4 (26 January 2011)
To be discussed in Council27 May 2011 Telecoms Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background

6.1  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.[31] 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.

6.2  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.

6.3  Full details of the Communication and the Government's views are set out in our Report of 8 September 2010.[32]

The Commission Communication

6.4  The first European eGovernment Action Plan[33] 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. The Commission therefore proposed 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").[34] 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 users' different needs and maximises public value, thus supporting the transition of Europe to a leading knowledge-based economy."

6.5  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.

6.6  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.

6.7  An accompanying 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.

6.8  The Communication then examines a number of action areas under the following headings, details of which are summarised in our previous Report:

  • User Empowerment — services designed around users needs and inclusive services
  • Internal Market — seamless services for businesses
  • Efficiency and Effectiveness — improving organisational processes[35]
  • Pre-conditions for developing eGovernment — Key Enablers
  • Pre-conditions for developing eGovernment — innovative eGovernment
  • Governance

The Government's view

6.9   In his Explanatory Memorandum of 18 January 2011, the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Francis Maude) explained 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.

6.10  The Minister noted 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."

6.11  He then described the actions outlined in the Communication as "ambitious but achievable in the 2011-2015 timeframe", and noted that there were no fundamental policy implications in the Action Plan. Several of the actions were, he said, already underway in the UK and a number of others were under consideration as part of the Government's ICT Strategy and associated workstreams across the Cabinet Office and other departments. He then comments in detail on each of the Action Plan areas (see our previous Report for details).

Our assessment

6.12  We noted that, although the Minister had drawn attention to 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 would 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 was 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.

6.13  With four months before Council Conclusions were due to be adopted, we asked the Minister to write to us before the Council meeting to outline how the questions raised by the Scottish Executive had been addressed, and how the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom would be safeguarded in the prospective Conclusions.

6.14  In the meantime we retained the document under scrutiny.[36]

The Minister's letter of 24 March 2011

6.15  In his letter of 24 March 2011, the Minister responds as follows:

WORKING WITH THE DEVOLVED ADMINISTRATIONS — EIDENTITY AND EAUTHENTICATION

"In line with the Concordat between Cabinet Office and the Scottish Executive, the Government will invite the Executive to participate in the identity assurance programme design activity. The invitation will be offered to the other administrations in order to ensure comprehensive awareness and involvement in this policy area.

WORKING WITH THE DEVOLVED ADMINISTRATIONS — ONLINE ACCESS

"The Government is working with all of the devolved administrations as to the development of their respective online services. The Government is planning to bring together the relevant delivery owners in the devolved administrations to share knowledge and expertise in this area.

"Northern Ireland Executive's 'NI Direct' which has been running for over a year has taken the Directgov operating model to manage the site and reuses Directgov content on a daily basis — approximately 80% of NI Direct is Directgov content. Government is currently working with the Executive to investigate how any tools, forms or services can be repurposed or reused.

"The Scottish Executive is currently working on their third iteration of an equivalent to Directgov. Directgov has been supporting the Executive for the past 18 months during this development and plans are in place for the Executive to utilise Directgov content in the same manner as NI Direct. Representatives from Directgov will attend the Scottish Executive's Digital Advisory Board this month, a further step in ensuring continued cooperation in this area.

"The Welsh Assembly Office has been in recent discussions with Directgov since the launch of their 'Digital Wales' Strategy. The Government will continue this dialogue for the mutual benefit for both parties to ensure the online service delivery is developed in the best possible manner.

WORKING WITH THE DEVOLVED ADMINISTRATIONS — INTEROPERABILITY FRAMEWORKS

"The devolved administrations are stakeholders in the development of the national interoperability framework and are already embedded in its governance process via the Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer Councils.

"The devolved administrations have been invited to join and contribute to teams of subject matter experts working to define the principles and standards specified within the framework. The collaborative nature of the development of the Government's national framework with representatives of the devolved administrations ensures consistency, where it is required, in delivering eGovernment systems for the benefit all UK citizens.

"The Government will invite the devolved administrations to the relevant Europe-focussed expert group once the forthcoming Government ICT Strategy is published. Within this new strategic framework, the Government will ensure the devolved administrations are kept informed, and in particular, taking the objectives of the European eGovernment Action Plan forward. Until then, the Government will continue to use existing channels to engage with the devolved administrations.

SAFEGUARDING ALL INTERESTS IN THE CONCLUSIONS

"Throughout the negotiations on the draft text of the Conclusions, the Government has consulted relevant delivery owners to ensure all UK interests are safeguarded. As the drafting processes enters the final stages, the Government is presently satisfied that there are no outstanding issues and that the actions for which Member State[s] are invited to cooperate on will work within the overall direction of eGovernment in the UK."

Conclusion

6.16  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which provides the necessary reassurances about the involvement of the devolved administrations in this process and the nature of the upcoming Telecoms Council Conclusions.

6.17  We now clear the document.




31   See http://ec.europa.eu/eu2020/pdf/COMPLET%20EN%20BARROSO%20%20%20007%20-%20Europe%202020%20-%20EN%20version.pdf for details. Back

32   See (31638) 9981/10: HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010). Back

33   eGovernment Action Plan 2006; for full information, see http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/egovernment/library/index_en.htm.  Back

34   See http://www.egov2009.se/wp-content/uploads/Ministerial-Declaration-on-eGovernment.pdf 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 http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/egovernment/library for further information. Back

35   Which we consider at chapter 7 of this Report. Back

36   See headnote: HC 428-xiv (2010-11), chapter 4 (26 January 2011). Back


 
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Prepared 10 May 2011