Tuesday, 18 August 2009

UKOnline - is it transforming how we deal with government or just helping us become better shoppers?

For over a decade now the UK Government has pursued policies to increase citizens use of the Internet in order to usher in the Information Revolution and in the words of Tony Blair not only to benefit the private sector and wider economy but also for public services to use information technology to help create fundamental improvement in the efficiency, convenience and quality of our services.

A major survey for the European Commission provides some insights into how far this has been achieved, at least from the perspective of the general public.

How Many Online?

The UK has done well in terms of public use of the Internet, with one of the highest levels of take-up across the EU. Four in five (80%) UK adults use the Internet at least every three months; only in Sweden (85%) and DenmarK (91%) are the levels statistically higher. The EU27 average is 68%.

However, with just 30% of UK adults using the net "several times a day" we are in line with the EU27 average (31%) and half the level found in Denmark (61%).

What Do We Do Online?

The chart above shows the activities of Internet users in the UK and for the EU27 average. Brits are similar to other Europeans in mostly using the net to search for information, email or send instant messaging (more than nine in ten Internet users do this). In many ways, UK Internet users lead other Europeans - almost four in five online Brits (78%) buy products or services online (the highest level of any European country), use Internet banking (56% in UK vs 51% in EU27) or use social network sites (39% in UK vs. 32% in EU27).

However, online Britons are no different from the European average in terms of using the Internet for "filling out and sending forms electronically to the public administrations" (46% in UK vs. 45% in EU27). France (63%) and Denmark (61%) head up this league table and a further seven European countries beat the UK on this measure.

And What Impact Has the Internet Had On Our Lives?

It seems the Internet has helped the UK become ever more addicted to shopping. Almost two in five (37%) online Brits strongly agree that the Internet has improved the way they shop (this is twice the EU27 average), though even more strongly agree the net has improved how they keep informed about current issues (53%), improved opportunities to learn (48%) and improved access th health-related issues (42%) - the latter perhaps a sign of the success of NHSDirect, especially given the EU27 average for this factor is just 28%.

It's not just about shopping and getting health information where more online Brits believe the Internet has improved what they do. They are also more likely than other online Europeans to strongly agree that the Internet has improved opportunities to learn and help manage finances (both 12 points higher), improved relationships with family and friends (8 points higher) and improved pursuit of hobbies (6 points higher).

Yet this has not translated into more online Brits strongly agreeing that the Internet has improved "the way you deal with public authorities" as just 16% in the UK say it has (the average in the EU27 is 15%). In Estonia, Malta, Austria and Hungary around three in ten of their online citizens strongly agree the Internet has improved access to their public authorities.

The question for the UK Government then is how much can it learn from other European countries which have been more successful at using the Internet to improve how citizens interact with it; as well as what more can be learnt from Tesco and other retailers where online Brits have been among the most enthusiasitc converts to the benefits of transacting online...

You can download the full report here.

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