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Business leaders want better digital services from government, says research

A survey of corporate decision-makers suggests executives waste an average of five hours per week using outdated online public services

UK business leaders want better government digital services for their companies, claiming they waste 33 working days per year due to outdated public websites, according to research.

Respondents to a survey of more than 600 UK decision-makers by research firm Opinium, commissioned by IT supplier EMC, suggested they would save on average five hours every week if online government services targeted at businesses were as good as websites they use from the private sector.

Some 62% said digital public services lack the ease of use associated with consumer-focused sites such as social media or e-commerce. Half of those surveyed said they wanted the option of talking to someone if needed, instead of relying solely on government websites.

The executives told researchers they need better online services for business support – cited by 39% of respondents – health and safety regulation (34%) and taxation (31%). For example, 50% of respondents said they would welcome a service to show all available tax breaks for businesses in one place, while 36% wanted an online systems showing in one place all the information and requirements needed to set up a business.  

A related survey of 2,000 consumers by Opinium/EMC also suggested 65% of people believe government digital services lag behind the private sector.

Emma Jones, founder of small business support organisation Enterprise Nation, said small firms are increasingly digital and expect the same approach from the public sector.

“Small businesses are rapidly embracing digital opportunities and they are looking to their government to do the same with smarter and more intuitive government services,” she said.

“What is striking in this research is the high demand for more services in business support and this is even higher among the younger, digitally-savvy business community. In the future, it will need to be tailored for a time-starved, tech-savvy entrepreneur audience who are calling for smarter services and more personalised updates concerning regulations, tax or advice.”

Over the past five years, the UK government has embarked on a programme to improve its digital offerings, led by the Government Digital Service (GDS). However, most of the initial services targeted by GDS were citizen-facing and not focused on businesses.

HM Revenue & Customs has launched an online business tax account service, which went live in March 2015, and is expected to eventually be scaled up to handle 5.2 million users.

“There is an obvious demand for a more digitally focused government, and while some progress has been made with GDS, there is still more that can be done in application transformation,” said James Norman, public sector CIO at EMC UK & Ireland.

“Businesses need a more efficient way of interacting with government and improving the accessibility of online services is one of them. Creating a digital foundation made of data and not paper will be critical for business growth in the future.”

Opinium surveyed 614 UK business decision-makers, drawn from a research panel of different company sizes from micro-business with fewer than 10 employees, up to large firms with more than 250 staff, located across the UK.

Read more about digital government

Mike Bracken, the outgoing director of the Government Digital Service, talked exclusively to Computer Weekly about his departure from Whitehall.

The government has made £18.6bn year-on-year savings, with £1.7bn coming from GDS-led efficiency and reform.

Government departments are not making the savings digital services were aiming to deliver, according to the National Audit Office.

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