Blair: Public services "in technological dark ages"

In his first major speech on e-government for two years, prime minister Tony Blair reaffirmed the government's £6bn investment...

In his first major speech on e-government for two years, prime minister Tony Blair reaffirmed the government's £6bn investment plan for public sector IT, but admitted there was a long way to go.

Speaking at the government's E-Summit in London on Tuesday, Blair said too many of the UK's public services "live in the technological dark ages". He talked of "too few teachers with their own e-mail, the NHS without a single electronic network, and no two parts of the criminal justice system operating with the same computer packages".

After his speech a Downing Street official confirmed that the £6bn, which was announced in this year's spending review, would be earmarked for IT projects.

Ring-fencing of IT investment has been a long standing source of tension in areas such as the NHS, where IT funds have often been diverted to deal with short-term clinical pressures.

Some £1bn of the £6bn available will be invested in networking the UK's public services, with Blair promising to link every school to broadband by 2006.

The overall broadband strategy will also encompass GP surgeries, hospitals, and Primary Care Trusts, as well as the criminal justice system and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Blair also highlighted the government's investment in NHS IT. "In the NHS we will be investing to create a national integrated care records service, an electronic prescription service, an electronic appointment booking service."

Other areas identified by the prime minster included services to enable drivers to conduct all their dealings with government online and the Transport Direct travel information service.

Blair said, "Transport Direct will provide travel information linking trains, buses and taxi connections to improve public transport as an integrated system."

The prime minster also used the conference to announce that the government had already met its target of opening 6,000 UK online centres by the end of 2002.

He said, "at least 126,000 new users have already come through the doors - a quarter of them unemployed or on benefits."

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