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THE Government's digital champion, Martha Lane Fox, says that smartening up official websites could save as much as pounds 2bn and make people's online lives much easier - but only if Whitehall is prepared to make some pretty radical changes.

Information Technology writer Giles Turnbull says that in a report sent to Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, Martha Lane Fox criticised existing Government online services for being 'over-complicated'.

If the airline industry can build websites that make it possible to find and book flights in just a few clicks, then the Government should be able to make its websites just as simple, she said.

After all, where's the benefit of putting the student loan application system online if applicants still have to print out a 30-page document to sign at the end of it? Online services need to be built for the web, not turned into print-outs.

Another recommendation is that Government website data should be syndicated or opened up so that it can be reused elsewhere. Rather than expect people to come to Directgov, build it so that they'll see it on the websites they normally use.

Right now, every Government department publishes its own website, but Ms Lane Fox says that's a waste of money. Instead there should be a small team in charge, commissioning content from the departments as needed.

Quite how the civil servants in charge at those departments will feel about that is another question altogether, but as Martha Lane Fox says in her report: "Government needs to move to a service culture, putting the needs of citizens ahead of those of departments."

If doing that really could save billions, no one's going to argue.

To download Ms Lane Fox's report, go to bit.ly/hcwsar.

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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 3, 2010
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