Verdict on Pinder: e-envoy landed some punches but failed to deliver a knock-out

Outgoing e-envoy Andrew Pinder can point to a series of successes in his three-year tenure.

Outgoing e-envoy Andrew Pinder can point to a series of successes in his three-year tenure.

Many government services have gone online and the majority of the UK population have access to the web or know how to access it. We might not have broadband Britain yet, but it is on its way.

The unfinished business for Pinder's successor will be to make government IT operate outside departmental silos. Pinder has maintained a low-profile approach to getting reluctant government departments to come together and make e-government work.

Even with Patricia Hewitt providing political clout and riding shotgun as e-minister, the job has proved difficult. Pinder has never conjured up the sort of headlines achieved by Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce.

Gershon generated acres of newsprint by announcing the interim conclusions of his review into Whitehall, which suggested that up to £15bn a year could be saved by a combination of better procurement, dramatically reshaping finance, IT and human resource functions and better use of e-government.

Pinder's achievements have been lower key, but still effective. "Pinder has certainly been visible and raised the profile of e-government," said a senior figure in one of the IT interest groups with close links to government.

"He has been 'out there', has communicated well and kept the issue at the front of the minds of people in our community. His problem has been that he has not had the ministerial power or mandate to drive all the changes he would have liked."

Pinder has been chided for narrowing down the original vision of the role of the e-envoy to that of an e-government communicator, but that is a criticism that he has rejected.

"I think it is important to look at what has been achieved since my office came into existence," Pinder said.

"The work done across government on opening up the broadband market has been pretty extraordinary. In the year to March 2003, the UK had the fastest growth of broadband penetration in the G7 group of nations at more than 350%.

"The UK has also been transformed from having some of the most expensive broadband to some of the most competitive costs of all benchmarked nations, dropping between 10% and 14% in the past six months alone.

"In addition, the creation of more than 6,000 UK online centres has been fundamental in bringing the internet to the community," he said.

"Current research shows that opportunities to physically access the internet are now no further away than the public library. Research by the Oxford Internet Institute has found that 96% of the population know where they can get online."

Pinder added that his office has also generated debate about e-democracy and done some "world-class work" on setting common standards such as the e-Gif interoperability framework.

"I think that we have now got a firm grip on the e-government programme with a clear focus on the key services that will deliver the majority of transactions, and we are making sure those services are delivered and used," he said.

Close colleagues of Pinder within government maintained he has coped well with the "Byzantine ways" of civil service mandarins, who believe more in service to ministers than cross-department delivery of government IT.

One IT colleague who has seen Pinder at close quarters suggested that his contribution to e-government will be more fully appreciated when he has gone.

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