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An Uneasy Revolution

There’s a danger that the National Audit Office report on our progress towards eGovernment, will be seen as a big finger being waved at everyone involved in the development of the ‘UK-Online’ agenda.

The UK is no different to any of the other countries I have visited over the last two years in trying to meet the cultural challenges associated with an ambitious and constantly evolving eGovernment programme, Accepting the vision, as one Greek Minister told me, is the easy part, reforming the civil service takes a little longer!

My own experience appears to support the view that there’s a resource gap between vision and execution in this country. Some would call it a gulf. When, last year, I chaired a roundtable at the eGovernment conference in London, some thirty local authorities, offered me one-line messages to deliver to The Office of The e-Envoy. These varied considerably between:

“Tell the e-Envoy that it’s all fur coat and no knickers” to “Most of here have day jobs. We need to spend less time thinking of clever ways to satisfy Whitehall’s paper targets and more time exchanging information and skills with other government departments”

We have to be honest with ourselves in looking at the entire eGovernment programme. This is as much about social re-engineering and good practise as it is about paying for your road tax on-line. In this country, government suffocates us with procedures and paperwork and at last, a conscious decision has been made to find a more efficient and cost-effective way of presenting, managing and facilitating some five hundred different services that touch us as citizens.

It is this breadth of vision and ambition which makes the UK’s own eGovernment programme so interesting to other countries with more modest targets in mind and in this case, being at the leading edge of eGovernment can mean that we are at its bleeding edge as well.

The Office of The e-Envoy is valiantly standardising the greater part of what is required to help central and local government departments on-line (there’s the e-Government Interoperability Framework and the e-Government Metadata Framework to name but two) but a project on this scale demands a huge pool of skilled people and an even larger pool of money to carry through the project management and business process re-engineering that the UK’s own eGovernment programme demands. Civil servants have to believe in information age government as much as the politicians and many of the former appear unconvinced, unskilled and unhappy at the extra workload, which is being thrust upon them.

But this is a revolution in the making and while I won’t start quoting Lenin or Marx in support of UK Online, I will paraphrase what I said at a meeting at No10 last month. There’s nothing wrong with the vision but revolutions cost money and are driven more by involvement than by direction. It’s the involvement part of the puzzle that still defeats us, convincing the public sector that it’s part of the UK’s eGovernment revolution rather than part of the resistance.

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