Public services – from HM Revenue & Customs to the Driving Standards Authority to libraries - are being transformed by e-commerce, asserts a new report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).
The report - How e-business transforms public sector services in the UK - highlights the positives of going digital for organisations such as the NHS, HMRC and local councils, with significant advantages including cost savings, increased accountability and transparency, as well as improving the interaction between the public sector, its service users and citizens.
But at a time when the public sector is being asked to think digital first, the report also warns that public services have a responsibility to ensure that their approach to e-business does not increase inequality for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Thirty-one public sector workers were asked about their attitudes to e-business. While all recognised the benefits, some were concerned that the full adoption of e-business practices would detract from the true value of the services they provide, especially as many are proud of the face-to-face, specialist, customised advice they can offer.
Helen Ripley, Business Development Manager – Public Sector at ACCA, says: 'As the government’s ‘digital by default’ policy accelerates, clearly there is a balancing act for UK central government departments, especially when it comes to data protection and the up-skilling and training of staff.'
The report concludes that public service organisations must work hard to manage change well, to be prepared to make significant cultural shifts and persuade more reluctant workers to support the move to e-business practices.
Helen Ripley concludes: 'The adoption of e-business methods has brought, and will continue to bring, efficiencies and financial savings – for instance HMRC has calculated the cost of processing a self-assessment tax return to be around £12 for a paper return and less than £1 for an online return. There are also social benefits, through greater and easier user engagement and the provision of quicker and more effective information to service users.
'Savings can only be of benefit to the taxpayer. But there is a last word of warning – efficiency can also drive up expectations, with the knock-on effect of raising public expectations. Keeping up with e-business will be important in years to come.'
The report includes three case studies on HMRC, the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and the UK Library Service, all examining how e-business practices have transformed how they operate.