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Better Government Programme

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 19 November 1997

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3.

If he will make a statement on the progress of his better government programme. [15092]

We are making good progress in developing the better government White Paper, which will set out a vision for public service into the new millennium. Our aim is to make government simpler and more responsive to citizens. That will partly be achieved by using the latest developments in information technology to improve the services we offer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set the target that one quarter of Government services should be deliverable electronically within the next five years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the better government initiative should involve the talents and experience of those in local government, where a number of improvements in service delivery have already been introduced?

Yes. I think it essential that we involve ordinary citizens at every level of government. Ordinary citizens do not distinguish between tiers of government, whether central or local; all they are interested in is the quality of the service that they receive. The better government initiative aims to end the perception that government is only about queues and forms. I am determined that local government will be involved in the initiative because local government is involved in many exciting initiatives in service provision. In order to co-ordinate and learn from those experiences, I recently set up a working group as part of the central-local partnership initiative, so that we can look at the various pilots and try to spread best practice.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has told me in a written answer that it is not Government policy for Ministers to be accessible by e-mail? With all the talk about better government and information technology, would it not be a good idea either for Ministers to have e-mail addresses instead of handing out a sheaf of replies consisting of "I will reply to the hon. Gentleman as quickly as possible", or for him to tell me that Ministers have no intention of having e-mail addresses?

The hon. Gentleman does not understand my answer correctly if he thinks that I am saying that it is not my policy to encourage Ministers to have e-mail addresses or to use them. In fact, I do have an e-mail address and it is public. My reply to the hon. Gentleman was that the information is not held centrally and therefore I cannot provide him with the answer for which he asks.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the better government programme is absolutely essential if we are to bring government closer to the people, overcome some of the cynicism people feel towards government and take better decisions in the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We fought the last election on the issue of the regeneration of our country, economic, social and democratic. Part of that appeal was the democratic appeal and, through our better government initiative, it is our hope and intention to involve many more of our citizens in the running of their country.