Government Continues Online Public Services Drive


The UK can learn from innovative online services from around the world says government

The UK government is continuing to push the importance of using the web to provide citizens with more efficient access to public services despite some criticism of its own tardy approach to the internet around the expenses scandal.

In a report released this week, entitled Power in People’s Hands: Learning from the World’s Best Public Services, the government has highlighted 30 of the best examples of how public sector organisations around the world are using innovative techniques including web tools to given citizens access to public services and information.

“The best examples of change around the world so clearly prove that it is possible to be radical about power and realistic about value for money,” said chief secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Public Service Reform Liam Byrne. “For example, from the way the American government is giving people better information about the performance and cost of services to how Swedish patients have clear entitlements to short hospital waiting times.”

The report includes examples such as the US website, which “increases public access to non-sensitive government databases in a format that makes the information easy to understand and re-use”. Other examples include the use of the web in preventative medicine by countries including the Netherlands which is piloting a scheme to keep patients with chronic conditions out of hospital if at all possible. “Each day the patient fills in an online survey about their health, allowing their doctor to spot early warning signs,” the report says.

The publication of the report is the latest move in a concerted attempt by the government to use the internet to help improve access to public services and presumably reduce costs and staff in the civil service. In June, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Sir Tim Berners-Lee had been appointed to help the government better engage with citizens via the Internet.

“So that Government information is accessible and useful for the widest possible group of people, I have asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who led the creation of the world wide web, to help us drive the opening up of access to Government data in [Sic] the web over the coming months,” the Prime Minister said in a statement at the time.

In May the Cabinet Office created the new role of director of “digital engagement”, and appointed a Twitter-using CIO Andrew Stott to take up the role.

But despite the numerous new hirings and strategy announcements, the government was widely criticised around the expenses scandal earlier this year for not opting to put MP’s expenses online earlier despite calls for it too happen.

Also a report published late last month by a Conservative think-tank criticised the government’s approach to online public services. The paper advocated giving citizens more control of their own data for example. “The individual could, if he or she so chose, use HealthVault or Google Health to store their health records and to communicate with their GP or hospital. This would obviate the need for the late and over-budget £20 billion NHS database.”