Government Services (Accessibility)

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21 March 2001.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough 12:00, 21 March 2001

If she will make a statement on making Government services more accessible to the public. [153306]

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

We have appointed consumer champions in all the key central government services to find out and meet users' needs. I visited my hon. Friend's constituency on 15 March to launch the booklet "Citizens FirstOpen All Hours", which details progress to date on providing extended opening hours across the public services. We will provide electronic access to all relevant services by 2005. The UK Online citizens' portal went live on 4 December 2000.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and welcome the Government's commitment to extending access to public services in health, education and employment. I was particularly pleased to welcome my right hon. Friend to the NHS walk-in centre in Slough—open 15 hours a day, 7 days a week—where he saw the work of Sally Patrick and her excellent team.

Can we look forward to other public services having an extended opening hours culture so that citizens who are at work—after all, there are many more of them under this Government than there used to be—can get access to public services?

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend is right, and I can give her a commitment that there will be a rolling programme for a range of services across the public sector, based on the "Open All Hours" document. Some of those services will be accessible 24 hours a day, some will be accessible at weekends, and there will be some early morning and late evening services. The basis of those changes will be feedback from consumers using local government and community services.

I ask my hon. Friend to pass on my best wishes to Sister Sally Patrick, who looked after us last week when I visited the Slough centre. It has already seen 10,000 patients in the first few months of operation and is now one of 40 NHS walk-in centres which provide a first-class health care service to people every day. Only four short years ago, such centres did not exist under the Tories. This Government, however, are modernising the health service.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

Has the right hon. Gentleman read either of the EURIM—European Information Society Group—reports on e-government and the modernisation of government? One of the working parties involved was chaired by the hon. Member for Luton, South (Ms Moran). Is he glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has announced that it is Conservative party policy to proceed with suggestions such as those made in the reports? Will he make urgent representations regarding implementation of the Senior Salaries Review Body recommendations, to ensure that Members of Parliament have proper IT that links in with the Government system? [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Older. I ask the House to come to order. The noise is unfair to hon. Members who are interested in the question.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

It sounds just like home at the weekend, Mr. Speaker.

I am fully committed to IT provision over the next few years, not only in terms of modernising the House. That includes not only equipment, but training, in terms of services both in the House and at constituency level. If the hon. Gentleman has any views on the matter, I ask him to contact me, as he has a friend at court.

On the second issue, I have not read Conservative party proposals in detail, but if they have at last turned the tide away from the incompetence on IT that was demonstrated by the previous Government, progress will have been made. The current Government were left with a huge legacy of failure in virtually every IT system procured by the previous Government. That cost the taxpayers of Britain hundreds of millions of pounds and delivered few good services. We are at last turning that around and are at the leading edge in the delivery of e-commerce.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

Will my right hon. Friend go a step further on public services and see whether we can get the public to elect the people who run those services—especially the quangos?

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend raises the issue of democratising quangos. That is exactly what this Government have done. We have removed Tory placemen and women and replaced them with local people. We have removed Tory business men and replaced them with people from ethnic minority communities. We have replaced Tory placemen with local women. We will continue to ensure that quangos and other public bodies represent the communities in which people live, not merely Tory placements.