Two Sides responds to call for government to go paperless

Jenny Roper
Friday, September 6, 2013

Industry lobbying group Two Sides has published a response to a Policy Exchange report recommending the government 'eliminate paper and digitise its activities'.

The report ‘Smarter, Better, Faster, Stronger’ asserts that government could save as much as £70bn by 2020 by eliminating paper for interactions within and between departments and switching exclusively to digital channels for public services that don’t need face-to-face interaction.

Specific areas highlighted were the ‘waste’ created by the Crown Prosecution Service printing one million sheets of paper every day, and the printing of online forms and posting them back for signatures.

While conceding that "in reality we live in an increasingly digital world where electronic and paper based communications coexist and are often complementary", Two Sides’ response stressed the need for caution in the Government going 'paperless'.

A key reason cited was the continued "digital disenfranchisement" of many UK households. The response pointed to the fact that, according to ONS 2013 data, 7.1 million UK adults (14%) have never used the internet and 17% of UK households do not have internet access.

It also highlighted the issues of consumer choice and the important role of the print and paper industry to the economy. Cited statistics included the fact that, according to a 2011 IPSOS survey, 80% of UK consumers prefer reading from paper than a screen, and 58% of consumers prefer to keep important documents as paper.

The response also challenged the report’s use of the term ‘paperless’, highlighting that 26% of UK consumers print up to 20% of their important documents at home.

Two Sides director Martyn Eustace said: "There’s an automatic assumption that digital is better. In many situations it can be - it’s incredible what we can do these days with digital information. But you have to recognise that paper-based media and printing is still an absolute necessity for a whole raft of people, and also the medium of choice for many others."

On why it was critical for Two Sides to formulate an official response and the impact the organisation is hoping to make, Eustace said: "Quite clearly any report that says there could be potential savings of £70 billion is going to be leapt on by government as incredibly attractive. We just hope people take our response into account."

The Two Sides response has been sent to the authors of ‘Smarter, Better, Faster, Stronger’ and Minister for the Cabinet office Francis Maude.

Commenting on the publication of the report on Monday (2 September), Maude said: "We estimate shifting government transactions to digital channels can save £1.2billion by 2015....This will deliver better value for hardworking families and better public services designed around users' needs. In future, all government services will be fast, convenient, agile and digital by default."

The Two Sides response can be read in full at www.twosides.info.

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