June 30, 2002

E-government and the modernisation agenda

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet have committed to modernise government and improve public services.

E-government is a key enabler for such modernisation and provides the opportunity to: improve responsiveness; move resources from the back-office to front-line services; deliver services in new and ‘joined up’ ways and promote participation in democracy.

The e-government targets

The United States Government, the European Commission and the United Kingdom Government have all set challenging targets to achieve on-line delivery of public services. In the UK, key targets are to deliver 100% of public services electronically by 2005, to e-enable elections by 2006 and for the NHS to provide everyone with an electronic health record by March 2005.

Business change

E-government is not about buying computer systems: it is about using information and communications technology to transform organisations and service delivery. E-government projects are business change projects. The McCartney report, Successful IT Projects, recognised that, in both private and public sectors, IT contracts have not always reflected the need to define organisational change and assign contractual responsibility for implementing such change.


The government identified £1 billion to support the modernisation agenda generally, but this is a small start when compared with the cost of implementing e-government. For local government to achieve its targets will require £2.5 billion of funding – the NHS will probably need much more. ‘Pump-priming’ funding is available to pathfinder projects through schemes such as the Local Government Online initiative, the Invest to Save Budget, and the PFI. However, strategic partnering with the private sector is emerging as the preferred option for manye-government and business transformation projects.


Increasingly, e-government schemes will be run as partnerships with other public sector organisations and with the private sector. Many councils have estimated the skills, timescales and costs of implementing e-government, and concluded that those plans could only be implemented if they worked with others. Many councils have embarked on, or are considering a ‘strategic partnering’ (outsourcing) relationship with a private sector partner to bring in additional investment and expertise – particularly ICT and organisational development skills. Not only is the IT function outsourced, but in some cases the departments which are actually delivering services and liaising with the public are outsourced. Whatever the nature of the different outsourced functions, the contract will provide for them to be IT-enabled to a significant degree.

Central e-government

To ‘join up’ local e-government services, central services and standards are essential. There is for example, www.ukonline.gov.uk, the portal designed to be a personalised window for citizens into government, the Government Gateway, which will support authentication, payments and secure mail, the National Land Information Service (NLIS) providing information on land and property together with the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG), and NHS Direct, the contact centre and Website service which provides immediate advice on health concerns.

However, just as most public services are delivered locally, most electronic services will be delivered at the local level. The major focus for e-local delivery will be local government and the NHS.

e-Local government

Best Value

Best Value is the statutory regime which requires councils to achieve continuous improvement in services: information technology and communications and e-government are now recognised as being among the most important tools to enable councils to achieve this. Strategic partnerships with the private sector will for many councils be the way to obtain the skills and resources to implement e-government and exploit ICT. The Best Value Performance Indicator 157 is important: it expressly requires councils to achieve the 2005 target for electronic delivery of services, putting the target on a statutory footing.


E-gov@local is the government’s strategy consultation for the implementation of e-government in local authorities. Partnerships between central and local government, and between different public agencies at the local level are emphasised, as is the need to ‘join up’ services in ways which make sense to customers.

IEG statements

To bid for the Local Government Online funding, all councils have produced Implementing Electronic Government (IEG) statements which set out theire-government strategies, relating them to their service delivery and ICT strategies. These are often used as the basis for strategic partnering relationships with private sector partners. Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are the foundation-stones of many authorities’ e-government strategies.


Modernising the NHS

The recent Budget followed the publication of the report on the NHS by Derek Wanless, which recommended that NHS spending on IM&T (information management and technology) should double. Over the next six years that would require an additional £6.7 billion investment which should quickly enable NHS staff to concentrate on patient care by relieving them of much administrative work.

Electronic records can be shared more effectively by clinicians within and between NHS organisations and will improve communication and ultimately, quality of care. Primary care trusts will implement electronic health records, which will hold patient data including registered GP, ongoing conditions and allergies.

Legal challenges

Most complex e-government projects will be achieved in some form of partnership with the private sector, which means potentially complex contractual arrangements. In such contracts, the specification of services to be provided is a crucial contractual document. Specifications are normally expressed in terms of desired outcomes, rather than technical ‘inputs’, but unfortunately this does not reduce the potential for ambiguity and uncertainty about the scope of contracted services. Legal input to the drafting of technical contractual documents is essential if disputes are to be avoided.

The joining up of services requires access to data from many sources, and this raises its own legal challenges in terms of data protection and public law. Public bodies must of course comply with data protection legislation, but there is an additional hurdle: data may only be used by a public body if it has a statutory or other legal power to do so. Data gathered for one purpose, in the absence of such a power, may not be used for another purpose – even with the consent of the data subject. This has clear implications for the objective to ‘join up’ services.

The government’s Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) recently published its consultation on data sharing, which called for comments by 12 July on its proposals for legislative reform which are:

  • to permit data sharing with consent
  • to permit data sharing ‘gateways’ between nominated bodies to be created by secondary legislation (rather than primary legislation as is currently required).

A further principal proposal is to suggest that there is a need for the Lord Chancellor’s Department to develop a single source of guidance on data sharing under existing legislation. Currently the PIU suggests that each body takes its own advice, which necessarily results in discrepancies and also perhaps excessive caution.

Finally, remember that, e-procurement systems must comply with EC procurement rules and may require changes to standing orders, financial instructions and contract rules.