E-government Initiatives

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture and Rural Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 27th May 2002.

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Photo of Patricia Lewsley Patricia Lewsley Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 27th May 2002

3. asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to report on progress in her Department in introducing e-government initiatives.

(AQO 1450/01)

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

For some time my Department has been making progress on introducing e-government initiatives in several areas that can change how business is conducted between the Department and its customers. My Department is engaged in progressing several reviews and initiatives to enable it to meet more effectively the challenges of the agrifood industry and the wider needs of rural communities in the new millennium.

Photo of Patricia Lewsley Patricia Lewsley Social Democratic and Labour Party

What electronic services are available for farmers who apply for farm subsidies?

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

Over the past two years, data held on the Department’s cattle database — APHIS Online — has increasingly been used to preprint animal details on subsidy application forms, and that helps to reduce the administrative burden on farmers. Over 43% of farmers now have their subsidies paid directly into their bank accounts, which is speedier, more secure and more convenient than payable order.

Work is under way to facilitate the submission of applications for farm subsidies via the Internet. Our aim is that applicants under the 2003 sheep annual premium will be able to submit their application in this way. The online claim facility will then be rolled out progressively to other schemes over the next two years. A wide range of information about farm subsidies, including blank application forms, is already available on the grants and subsidies web site.

The rural portal web site forms a central part of the Department’s e-government strategy. It provides farmers and growers with a single signposted access point to online information and services. It provides a one-stop shop for the farming community, enabling many services to be accessed from home. To date, about 9,000 farmers have been able to access these services on computer, and the aim is that all farmers will be able to access it by 2005. We will also enable farmers to reskill and to up-skill to do that.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Programme for Government is committed to making 100% of key services available online. Does the Minister regard all the services provided to farmers by her Department as being key services, or are some areas excluded?

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Department of Agriculture is on target in its commitment to the Programme for Government. Nine thousand farmers, roughly one third, have access to online services. By 2005 we hope that farmers can access all online services and that all will avail of it. Farmers who do not wish to use online services may continue to use paper.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

I welcome the Minister’s progress on e-government. Surely it is another way of including townland names in her customers’ addresses, as these are all in the countryside?

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

That is stretching supplementary questions a bit too far. Mr Francie Molloy is not in the Chamber, so question 4 will fall.