MPs have questioned the drive towards e-government and accused Whitehall departments of undermining local Post Offices by pushing online services instead of over-the-counter transactions.
A report from the all-party Commons Business and Enterprise Committee cited as examples the campaign to persuade motorists to renew vehicle excise licences on the web instead of at sub-Post Offices, and the strategy to persuade pensioners to receive payments into bank accounts instead of collecting them over the counter.
The committee's report, most of which concerned the need to find more new business to keep local offices viable, said the public "is deeply sceptical about the extent to which it is acceptable to offer services online only, with widespread concern that certain disadvantaged groups find themselves further disadvantaged by ignorance as to how to use the internet and inability to afford a computer.”
The MPs said: "Even assuming widespread access to the internet, some degree of personal interaction needs to be protected, and some people would choose not to use the internet for financial or retail transactions because of security concerns."
It added: "Many people expressed the view that there is a legitimate demand for people to conduct transactions face-to-face rather than always being forced to do so remotely."
The committee's view was that the public could be encouraged online "but not be driven there".
One of the MPs' recommendations built on the huge increase in parcel traffic as more people order goods from suppliers online.
They said local Post Offices should be allowed to interact with other delivery and courier services as well as Royal Mail, in order to help meet public demand for access to local collection and delivery points.
The government’s Digital Britain strategy calls for a “digital switchover” for public services from 2012 that would make the internet the primary delivery route for many government departments.
To overcome the issue that more than a third of the population do not have internet access, the plan also aims to widen digital inclusion by introducing universal broadband. Gordon Brown has appointed Lastminute.com founder Martha Lane Fox to lead the drive to bring the digitally excluded online.
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