Skip to content

Ten Surprises in NAO report “Digital Britain 2: Putting users at the heart of government’s digital services”

March 28, 2013

1. Shock horror disbelief!

Today’s report is the result of an independent survey that the UK National Audit Office (NAO) commissioned. 3,000 people were questioned face-to-face to check their experiences with online services. The results are surprising: online Government services score 4.4 out of 5 for ease of use and 88% of the interviewees rated online public services as easy to use.

2. Drop the dancing fairies!

People rate speed and ease of navigation of websites far more important than slick ‘look and feel’.

3. Whoops! What about Granny?

Government plans have overlooked the need to allow family and friends to act on behalf of those who cannot (or will not) go line..

4. Lies, damned lies and statistics

Government claims online is 20 times cheaper than phone, and 50 times cheaper than face-to-face.  Could these impressive numbers just be the result of cherry-picking the most used transactions? The report GDS estimates savings of £1.8bn from £6bn to £9bn at present – this results in a more sober estimate of a saving of only 20% to 33% of Government going digital.  And GDS admits that these estimates are the ‘best possible outcomes’ and they have not yet audited by NAO.

5. Does it add up?

Some of the Government’s logic, such as the assumption that because 82% of the population are online, that 82% of transactions would take place online, seems foggy.

6. People say one thing, and then do another

People say that they are not happy providing personal information online – 70 out of every 100 shoppers say this – but 39 of those people still go ahead and shop anyhow. Only 9% are actually deterred from shopping by any need to provide personal information. Perhaps a case of saying one thing, and doing another in reality?

7. The kids are united!

Usage of the two most popular public services is driven by youth (86% of student loan applications and 85% of driving test bookings).

8. Silver surfers are a minority

Granddads and Grannies across the country are mainly offline. These silver ‘refuseniks’ have little interest in the Internet and have no intention of going online anytime soon. Although they can’t be bothered to go online, they do get their friends or family to do the legwork and go online on their behalf!

9. Government is the ‘wallflower’ at the Digital prom dance

As much as Government would like people to be accessing its website and using its services, most people regard government transactions as an infrequent ‘necessary evil’ (paying taxes and filing tax returns) – eBay and Amazon are always going to be busier and more widely used!

10. And furthermore…

… this report is purely illustrative – it is not a ‘value for money’ study. Although the survey results are interesting and could inform policy, the Government’s forecasts of cost savings are not scrutinised in this report and should be treated with caution.



Some other random notes on the NAO report:

91% of adults (15 to 64 years) are online and over 90% are confident in using online services.

Some services, such as ‘Tell us once’ has only reached an awareness level of 47% for registering births and deaths, so some tactical awareness work is obviously still required.

The Government Digital Service (GDS), a unit in the Cabinet Office has grown from 91 to 165 staff in the last 12 months.

GDS has identified 650 services that could be digitised, the NAO report does not make clear that only about 300 are planned to be put online at any time before 2017 – the others, with less than 100,000 transactions a year (for example, requests for ‘burial at sea’) will remain a non-online service for the foreseeable future. The £1.8bn forecast saving is based on 650 services being digitised…

The NAO reports that GDS is planning 23 exemplar projects to be implemented in the final 400 days, two fewer than the target of 25 services announced at the start of the year.

The report notes that “people use significantly more private sector than public sector services online”. The logic here seems to be that because 56% shop online, but only 29% use government services that somehow the Government is behind. But: could this be, however, simply an ‘asymmetric statistic’?  Perhaps it is not unusual for one person in each household to take responsibility for household affairs, for example paying for a tax disc for the family car, renewing the TV License etc. whilst the other household members are all busy having fun on Facebook etc.


And finally…

A worry here is that 37% of disabled people are currently permanently offline. The Internet should be great help to the disabled – a shame that uptake is so low…



NAO 2013, Digital Britain 2: Putting users at the heart of government’s digital services, NAO, HC 1048

Wernham, Brian 2012, Agile Project Management for Government, Maitland and Strong



From → Agile Governance

One Comment
  1. Excellent post, Mr Wernham.

    Re the putative savings to be made by digital-by-default, The savings to be expected from digital-by-default – a clarification, GDS reckon it could take 11 years to achieve the 82% figure, the £1.8 billion savings are to be made by making 40,000+ public servants redundant, and there is no plan to leave this money with the public, it will be used by Whitehall as they, in their wisdom, see fit. The additional putative savings mentioned could only be achieved by massive personal data-sharing between departments, which happens to be illegal.

    Note that digital-by-default only works if there is an identity assurance system. There is no sign that GDS are capable of making that happen. The NAO are clearly onto that but chose not to mention it in their recommendations.

    GDS claim to embrace agile. So do DWP, on occasion. Do you see any sign of agile? (GDS seem to write notes on their windows as well as the walls, but apart from that.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: