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September 2001

A new dawn breaks this month: our latest Head of e-Government takes up his post. And all the time you didn’t even know that we had an e-Government that needed a Head.

Actually, “latest” is the wrong word, as he is the first. Until now we have had to manage with an “e-Envoy”, who is being abolished. No great loss; he had virtually no power and little to do, apart from “championing e-commerce”.   The post was invented five years ago when the Blair and Co knew little of the Internet, but were blinded by the shimmer from the Dotcom boom and frightened of being thought old fashioned.  They created the e-Envoy’s non-job to show how in touch they were.

Since then the Government has become by far the biggest UK customer for computer equipment and services and their websites are the largest.  There are many large software companies and computer consultants that have no clients outside the public sector, and in due course it is perfectly possible that our masters will expect us to communicate with them only through the Internet.

So they’ve given us a Head of e-Government, complete with a comfortable four year contract, and paid at a rate described to me by the Cabinet Office with impressive vagueness as “in the range of £90,867 to £192,424”.  But what is he going to do?  Let me read between the lines and interpret for you.

The truth is that this appointment follows rising panic in No 10 that the Internet related targets Mr Blair announced would be achieved by 2005 will not be met, and with an election due that year someone might notice.  Don’t worry what those targets are – suffice it to say that they are the usual mish mash of unrealistic hopes and dreams (electronic booking of all hospital appointments, for example.  Ha Ha). So the e-Envoy’s outward looking evangelist role is being ditched, and the new Head of e-Government will face the other way and focus on making the Government use their own computers better.

I suppose this is probably the right way to go; at least they’ve noticed that something needs to be done by someone with some influence; the new Head reports directly to the Cabinet Secretary.

It’s overdue.  The worry in the industry is that public service websites are growing out of control. More and more information is being piled into them, but finding what you want is becoming harder and harder.  This is partly due to the design of the sites, but mainly because they are not using the latest tools to help us look.  One software company ( has recently calculated that about £1.5 billion has been wasted on hugely complex new government websites that are no more accessible than the ones they replaced, but are much more expensive.

Admittedly, have a search product to sell, but their argument makes sense – if a website doesn’t give you information efficiently and accurately, there really isn’t any point to it.

To reinforce this, in May the consultancy firm Accenture ( produced a critical report suggesting that Government progress in this area had stalled, and that the (then) proposed Head of e-Government needs to shake things up a bit. The new man may come to curse that report – the Government has since appointed one Ian Watmore to the job, whose previous position was as UK Managing Director of, yes, Accenture.  This shows unusually good sense, as for once it forces an expensive consultant to follow his own advice. That alone should be worth watching.  Keep an eye on him at