Francis Maude: Campaigning to get more people online

Horsham MP Francis Maude
Horsham MP Francis Maude

I’ve written previously about the Government’s move to being a world leader in digital. Starting with information, replacing more than 300 government websites with the award-winning, we then moved on to services, where we are moving 25 of the most used transactional services online.

Most of these are already being used by the public, but will be constantly improved as a result of the experience of those users. From checking your driving record to doing your tax return to renewing your car tax, all of these are easier and more convenient online. And much cheaper than the old ways – typically it costs 20 time more to transact on the phone, 30 times more by post, and 50 times more face to face.

But what of people who don’t use the internet? How are these, the ‘digitally excluded’, meant to do these things? The good news is that there are fewer people in Britain who are digitally excluded than in most of Europe, but there are still several million. Most are older people. So we commit that for every digital service there will be an ‘assisted digital’ option, where someone else can either help the citizen to complete the internet transaction, or do it for them. Ideally it would be the former, as that has the best chance of helping that person to be able to use the internet for many more purposes. And we know that being online and digitally connected can really improve the quality of life.

Because the internet has been a fantastically liberating thing, enabling us to communicate much more easily with our families and friends, to shop on line, read, be informed, remain in touch.

I spoke at an event this week marking the publication of a report which shows that the use of mobile phones – smartphones – to access the internet is growing very sharply. There are two age groups where significant number of people access the internet only through mobile, so just using a smartphone or a tablet, like the iPad. These are teenagers – and people over 65. And this is only going to grow.

For people who’ve never used the internet, using a smartphone or tablet is less intimidating than using a laptop or desktop computer. A computer sounds like a scarier thing than a phone. People find using a touchscreen more intuitive and easier than grappling with a keyboard and mouse.

Most people now have and use a mobile phone, and moving up to using a smartphone to access the internet is much less of a jump.

We’re so lucky to live in this age, when there is so much opportunity and so many advances. So as a government we’re going to continue with our campaign to help more and more people to get online, so that more and more people can take advantage of these opportunities.