HC Deb 18 May 2004 vol 421 cc820-2
22. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

If he will make a statement on e-delivery of Government services. [173515]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)

The latest reported figures show that 68 per cent. of Government services are now available online. Departments continue to report steady progress towards the target of delivering all services electronically by 2005 and, most important, achieving high levels of use of those services. To maximize take-up

of services, the new Directgov site—www.direct.gov.uk—brings together information and services from many Whitehall Departments so that members of the public can have a single access point.

Miss McIntosh

Will the Minister describe to the House the difficulties that have been experienced in rolling out and implementing the e-delivery programme in almost every Department? Can he understand the frustration of our constituents who are being driven dotty by this dotcom roll-out? Does he agree that there is no substitute for having a real person at the end of a phone line when those difficulties are experienced?

Mr. Woolas

I respect the hon. Lady's point, but I do not agree. Of course, there are difficulties in implementing the strategy, but I should have thought that the House would see that it is positive and shows that Departments across the range are working closely together. That is what my hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office is doing—I can give the House some real examples. Last year, the system enabled 705,000 people to fill out their self-assessment tax forms and more than 60,000 people successfully obtained their passport. It provides a good service for the public and saves money for the taxpayer. I should have thought that the hon. Lady would support that.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)

Will the Minister pass on to his hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office my congratulations on the delivery—if not the e-delivery—of his child?

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a point on the 2005 target for getting all services online? Does that mean January 2005, mid-year 2005 or the end of 2005?

Mr. Woolas

It means what it says. It means 2005—next year. So far, the figure is 68 per cent. and I am confident that further good news will be published shortly. Incidentally, according to a survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office from a respected City organisation, our e-environment is the second best in the world; we are second only to Denmark.

On the hon. Gentleman's specific question, if the date is not the end of 2005 I shall write and tell him.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)

The Minister mentioned the number of people who have applied for passports and done their tax returns online. Will he outline what the Cabinet Office is doing to increase the availability of services for people who are not online?

Mr. Woolas

Of course that is a very important follow-up question. The capacity to get those services is all very well, but it is whether they are used that counts. Indeed, the Government have improved and refined their target in a way that the House would support. It is not enough just to achieve that target by 2005; the take-up is important, and we are providing extra money—more than £1 billion across Departments and more than £30 million to the regional agencies—to help us to achieve that aim.