Inspector Dogberry: Civil Service, UN E-government index and EU polls

Business Technology’s canine columnist picks out the best E-government news. Follow The Inspector on Twitter at @DogberryTweets.

Inspector-Dogberry-31Applications for the new role of chief executive of the Civil Service have just closed. On the face of it, it sounds very much like a job for a top dog – bringing together the 400,000-strong Civil Service under a single, effective leadership rather than a federation of departments all reporting to their own Sir Humphreys.

An end to internecine fighting and rivalry between government departments then – instead, everybody united for a common good. But it turns out the job has less clout than first thought. The job ad sought an individual to “lead” the Civil Service, but not, it transpired, to manage it. Permanent secretaries, the most senior civil servants in their departments, will report not to the new CEO but to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary. And the CEO will have to report to three bosses: Sir Jeremy, Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. “The job description for the newly created position of chief executive shows that the new role will not be a chief executive in any sense normally recognised in either the private or public sectors,” says Peter Riddell, director at the Institute for Government. Sounds like a dog’s dinner to Dogberry.

Oh dear. Britain is back in the doghouse. For all the talk of the UK empowering its citizens by opening up government services to them on the internet, the country has actually fallen to eighth place in the United Nations’ biennial E-government index. Two years ago it was in third place. Once again South Korea is the number one country in the world for opening up government services on the internet, with Australia in second place. Back in 2012 Australia wasn’t even on the list. Singapore, ranked 10th in the 2012 index, is in third place. And those normally forward-thinking Scandinavians – Denmark, Norway and Sweden – have dropped off the list completely.

Nearly a third of European Union citizens are not interested in E-government, according to Eurostat. On average, 28 per cent of internet users have no interest in requesting services from public authorities online. The Czech Republic, Ireland, Latvia and Romania are the most indifferent to online e-services. And just 8 per cent of internet users aged between 65 and 74 use online government services. Lack of one-on-one contact is the reason most often cited, followed by data protection and security issues. Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands and Sweden have the most active citizens when it comes to completing forms online.

Government plans for doctors to diagnose patients by email could put their health at risk while failing to save money, warns a leading GP. The Department of Health has invested millions in pilot schemes assessing the effectiveness of e-consultations – through Skype or email – despite the misgivings of some doctors. Emma Richards, an honorary clinical research fellow at Imperial College London, argues that online-only consultations could create a digital divide between tech-savvy patients and the elderly or patients unable to afford internet access. That is on top of an email diagnosis being unable to pick up visual clues about a patient’s condition. Dr Richards wrote that email consultations potentially create a “’digital divide’ of widening health inequalities”.