Government's online initiatives undermined by bad performance

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The Independent Online

The Government's attempt to persuade people to go online is being undermined by the poor performance of its own web sites, according to a new survey.

The Government's attempt to persuade people to go online is being undermined by the poor performance of its own web sites, according to a new survey.

A detailed analysis of Whitehall's 20 main web sites found that only three were free of problems over a 30-day test period.

Conducted by Site Confidence, a web page testing company, for The Independent on Sunday, the news will embarrass the Department of Trade and Industry and the Cabinet Office which have spent millions encouraging people to use the Government's sites.

The test results show that in the 30 days to 9 June, the DTI's own web site was not functioning properly, with a persistent problem loading images. DTI minister, Stephen Timms, is personally responsible for promoting e-commerce.

The Home Office's web site was beset with a similar problem to the DTI's. What's more, the Government's "gateway" web site, www.gov.uk, which is designed to allow citizens easy access to public services, suffered serious technical problems. For 12 hours during the test period users were unable to even log on to the site.

People wanting to access information about health would also have experienced particular problems, according to the Site Confidence results. The Department of Health's web site suffered various technical problems for over a day.

According to Site Confidence, businesses aim to have their web pages running without a major technical problem for a minimum of 98.5 per cent of the time over a month. And 99 per cent is regarded as the industry standard. However, the survey of the Government's sites found that five web sites failed to meet the minimum standard of 98.5 per cent.

Bill Kirkwood, the chief executive of Site Confidence, said: "The e-envoy in the Cabinet Office has been very prescriptive on the way the sites are built and on their overall performance. But having put these guidelines in place there is still no mechanism to measure them, and as a result, there is a huge disparity in performance.

"Many of these sites don't perform well. In the commercial world, the web site is critical to business performance. This sort of thing just would not happen."

The survey did throw up some good news. Users accessing the web pages of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Work and Pensions and National Statistics enjoyed trouble-free surfing over 30 days.

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