February 9, 2005 10:47 AM PST

Tony Blair admits to being a technophobe

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has freely admitted that he is a technophobe, confounding critics who claim he is unable to give a direct answer to questions about his IT agenda.

During a session of the Parliamentary liaison committee on Monday, Liberal Democrat IT spokesman Richard Allan asked if it was true that on a "personal level" the prime minister was something of a technophobe. "I am afraid that is fair actually, yes," Blair said.

According to a report on Allan's blog, Political Times, he was trying to ascertain how confident the public could be that government would achieve efficiency savings targets through information technology given its poor record on big IT projects.

"Prime Minister, do you accept you will not meet your Gershon Review efficiency targets unless government dramatically improves its ability to purchase the large IT systems it requires?" Allen asked.

Blair responded by saying that the government has had mixed success when it comes to large IT projects but that its track record is no worse than that of the private sector. "Some of the IT projects do not go well and some of them do go well. Funnily enough, if you look at the comparison between public and private sector on IT projects, it is not very much different," he said.

Allan then asked whether Blair had ever visited the government's online information portal, Direct.gov.uk, or even knew the address--to which the answer was no on both counts. "I think that is a very unfair question. The answer is no," Blair said.

Despite never having actually visited the information portal, Blair said he realizes the importance of online services to the general public. "The use of the new technology is a very, very important thing for government. Online, for example, people are able to do far more than they ever used to. Some of the self-assessment on tax, there are now lots of people doing that online."

Allan responded to the statement by pointing out that unfortunately Blair would not be able to include himself in this group of people who are taking advantage of online services. "There is not me doing it online, no, I have to say. I apologize for that, I have a few other things on my plate," Blair said.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London.

 

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