‘Digital By Default’ Is Directgov’s Aim For Services
The Cabinet Office foresees delivering services digitally but concerns are being voiced for those without Internet skills
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has announced that public services transactions will increasingly be provided as online-only services. Existing services, such as student loans, applications for driving licences and jobseeker allowances, would be prime candidates for the move.
Maude also said that more services will be moved to the Directgov site with a likely broadening of the pages dedicated to schools. This would incorporate information on school meals and, at some future point, child benefits.
Savings could amount to £2.2 billion
The government has for some time seen the web as a way to cut the paper bureaucracy and help the average citizen to access information more easily, but there is also a financial motive that is acting as a catalyst. The “digital by default” changes are expected to deliver savings of £1.3 billion when 30 percent of government services are moved online. This would rise to £2.2 billion when the 50 percent milestone is reached.
At a time when the pressure is on to make public service cuts, the savings look like a desirable goal and the fear is that the Cabinet Office may lose sight of citizens’ needs and abilities in the rush to save money.
Maude (left) denies this and in a statement he said, “This does not mean we will abandon groups that are less likely to access the internet: we recognise that we cannot leave anyone behind. Every single government service must be available to everyone – no matter if they are online or not.”
This could mean that the promised savings will be slower to accrue with traditional offices being held open to ensure that the estimated 10 million people who have yet to access the Internet are not disadvantaged. Of this number, around six million are in the over 65 age bracket, claimed Age Concern.
The older age group are particularly vulnerable and their needs are greater than the average citizen, Age Concern said. A spokesperson for the organisation told the Daily Telegraph: “We work with a lot of older people to get them online but we have to accept that there are a lot of people out there who do not use the Internet and we need to make sure that we do not further isolate them in any way.”
Digital Champion Calls For Order
Before the report was underway, Lane Fox pointed out that 80 percent of government interactions involve the 25 percent of the population with low incomes and therefore least likely to have Internet access. There are also many thousands who live in areas where the telecoms provision does not allow Internet access.
Having said this, Lane Fox is determined to fuel the movement of services to Directgov but she wants to see a better structure based on a single domain rather than the departmental sprawl of the current government provisions. She also feels that the delivery processes need upgrading to take advantage of the latest moves to a services-oriented web.
Although a Directgov portal, which she refers to as a front door, is desirable, the majority of visitors enter through search results and other hyperlinks. These incidental visitors should not find themselves locked-in to a maze of web pages but should find that, wherever they are, there is sufficient information immediately to hand to guide their journey through the site.
A major push from Lane Fox is for the immediate appointment of a CEO to set and enforce standards across the whole of the government’s online estate. She wrote in her report: “I recommend that this post is advertised as soon as is possible.”
In his reply, Maude thanks Lane Fox for her insightful observations but the hand of bureaucracy sweeps away her sense of urgency.
“I intend to set up a new Ministerial Working Group on Digital, reporting to the Cabinet Economic Affairs Committee,” he wrote. “I would be very grateful if you would continue to play an active advisory role to government on taking these proposals forward, including through the new Ministerial Working Group and the Efficiency and Reform Board.”