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U.K. Government Puts Cradle-to-Grave Services on Web

[London, ENGLAND] "From the cradle to the grave" is how the U.K. Government describes the range of services on ukonline.gov.uk, a new Web site developed in partnership with Syntegra.

Aimed to give 24-hour access to Government, the site will inevitably draw criticism for being too political because it contains a so-called "Citizen Space" where the Government's policy is explained and current issues discussed.

Ukonline.gov.uk has been running in beta since December 2000, and, since then, rival parties to the governing Labour Party have taken a "wait and see" attitude before criticizing it overtly. But with the election drawing ever closer, the enhanced site launched this week is bound to become more controversial.

Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney said the site was just the starter in what he called "a moving feast."

"We are investigating a tranche of new services -- such as packaged information and services for people retiring, changing jobs, starting, changing or leaving school, and becoming a carer," said McCartney.

The Minister went on to say that the site is part of a billion-pound (US $1.41 billion) drive to put all Government services online.

"It's turning Government on its head -- ensuring convenient and accessible services organized around people's needs," said McCartney.

Perhaps the key feature of ukonline.gov.uk is the way in which it organizes information around key events in people's lives. The "LifeEvents" area takes people directly to the information they need, whether they are having a baby, moving house, or dealing with bereavement.

Other features include easy access for the partially sighted, a special search engine for the 1,000 U.K. Government Web sites, and improved navigation.

Use of the site is obviously dependent on people having Internet access -- an issue that the U.K. Government has been at pains to address. In September 2000, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the Government's intention to ensure universal access to the Internet by 2005.

According to a new Government report, by 2005 around 30 percent of British households will use high-speed Internet connections. A chain of public access centers will demonstrate the benefits of using broadband, as well as providing access for those people without a connection at home or work.