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UK GOVERNMENT: Net gain for Britain's public services

Story Filed: Thursday, December 09, 1999 3:08 PM EST

DEC 9, 1999, M2 Communications - A new drive to give Britain a world class internet presence will help unlock the door to Government for thousands, Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney announced today.

Speaking at the Cyberia Internet cafe in London, Mr McCartney was launching a raft of new initiatives to transform Government services on the web.

A new website policy will open up a wealth of information and opportunity to visually impaired people for the first time ever and improve access to public services and advice for the whole country.

Mr McCartney also announced a New Media Team at the heart of Government headed by e-envoy Alex Allan. This team will act as agents for change - driving up standards of Government websites and paving the way for a revolution in the way many public services are delivered.

Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Ian McCartney, said:

"The internet has the power to unlock the door to Government and open up a new world of information and opportunity to the public.

"Through the click of a button we can provide high quality services, such as health advice and help finding jobs, directly to citizens in a simple and convenient way.

"We are working to harness the potential IT has to transform Britain. These new initiatives will transform public services to make them more accessible and responsive to the needs of citizens. Measures to boost services for visually impaired people, will also help stamp out inequality of opportunity and help tackle the culture of diminished expectations and inadequate services."

The new package of measures will:

* Drive-up the quality of Government websites through guidance to improve design, accessibility and navigation between sites and bring in consistent standards. The New Media Team, reporting to the new e-envoy Alex Allan, will carry out an audit of sites and set targets for compliance;

* The team will also advise departments on e-commerce technology sites, stepping up the drive to move sites from giving information to transactions;

* Tackle the social exclusion of visually impaired people. Cutting edge voice technology will help open up information and access to public services;

* Light the spark for a rise in public services on the internet. It will help enable government to deliver the targets set for electronic government - 100 per cent of services online by 2008;

* Help provide higher quality information and services directly to citizens, with the potential of huge savings to the public purse; and

* Drive culture change throughthe civil service by pushing for more information and services to be delivered through the internet.

The Government's new initiatives are being endorsed by net giants Cisco and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), who say new website guidelines will transform the lives of many of its members.

Chris Dedicoat, Managing Director UK and Ireland, Cisco Systems said:

"The Internet is changing all aspects of people's lives and Cisco strongly welcomes the Government's moves to make public services accessible to all - regardless of the challenges they face in day to day living."

Julie Howell, RNIB's Access to Digital Information Campaigns Officer, said:

"The web opens up a new world of information to blind and partially sighted people but all too often web sites are so poorly designed that specially adapted computers will not work with them. We hope these guidelines for Government web sites will be implemented quickly so that blind and partially sighted people can get equal access to information and fully participate in the democratic process."

New measures to help visually impaired people follow cross-governmental schemes promoting equal opportunities announced last week by the Cabinet Office.

These include help tackling bullying and discrimination in the workplace, changes to help speed up and simplify equal pay claims and moves to address the lack of knowledge of disability issues. Public services to be made available online in the future include help finding jobs, filing tax returns, community legal advice, information and aid for small and medium businesses. This week NHS Online was also launched offering health advice via the internet.

New website guidelines are the second of six policies published in the coming months using IT to improve public services to make them more convenient and responsive to people's needs.

Call Centre guidelines were launched on Monday and these will be followed by policies on digital TV, smartcards, security and authentication.


1. New Government website guidelines will be launched by Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Ian McCartney, at Cyberia Internet cafe, 39 Whitfield Street, W1 at 11.45am on Thursday 9 December. Media are invited to attend. Visually impaired people will be present to demonstrate the difference the announcement will make to them. They will also be available for interview.

2. The Government has committed half a billion pounds to the establishment of new Information and Communication Technology learning centres. The target is a national network of computer learning centres, which will be in schools, colleges, libraries, in Internet cafes and drop-in centres on the high street.

3. NHS Direct On-line was launched on Tuesday. It provides clear and reliable advice on health matters, including information on the NHS and the services it provides.

4. Web guidelines have been produced by the Cabinet Office's Central IT Unit and will form part of the Government's first-ever Corporate IT Strategy. The guidelines have been endorsed by the Information Age Government Champions - 36 top-level officials across local and central government. The Corporate IT strategy is part of the Modernising government programme.

5. On 24 November, it was announced that the Government's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) will carry out a study to take a strategic view of which public services could be delivered by electronic means.

6. The PIU will look at the options for electronic delivery and the respective roles of both the public and private sectors. It will look across the whole range of means of electronic delivery, including internet access through the PC, Digital TV, third generation mobile phones and games consoles and interactive Digital TV services. It will also consider public access, for example through public kiosks.

7. The PIU team will work closely with the e-envoy, the Central IT Unit and the Modernising Public Services group in the Cabinet Office, with other Government departments and with the Local Government Association in taking forward the study to make sure that links are made with the corporate IT strategy for Government and other initiatives.

8. Website Guidelines will be published on the website at www.iagchampions.gov.uk, which has been created by web design company cScape. The site is the first UK government website to be entirely developed in XML, allowing a series of style-sheets to deliver the same content in a variety of ways, depending on the preferred browser of the user.

9. Media copies of the guidelines are available from the Cabinet Office press office.

Issued By:

Cabinet Office 

Press Office 

70 Whitehall 




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