The coalition government has performed a U-turn and pledged to respond to e-petitions sent to the former Labour administration.
As part of a review of online services, the new government had previously said that it would not carry forward or respond to e-petitions posted under Gordon Brown. However, it has now backtracked and said that it will respond to those with more than 500 signatures.
The existing e-petitions system was introduced in 2006, to supplement paper petitions that the public can still hand directly to Number 10. However, the Prime Minister’s office plans to launch a new, “improved” e-petitions system later this year.
A statement on the Number 10 e-petitions website said: “We are committed to improving the e-petitions process and are looking at ways of ensuring that it functions as part of a cohesive approach to public debate and transparent government.”
The most popular e-petition sent to the Prime Minister’s office closed in February 2007. The petition called for the government to scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy, and received 1,811,424 signatures. By 6 April 2010, the site had received 33,068 petitions in total.
The government’s commitment to e-petitions is part of the coalition’s efforts to promote the importance of online interaction with the public.
It seems to be making some headway, as after inviting people to comment on its coalition policy programme on the Cabinet Office website, more than 6,500 people chose to do so by yesterday’s deadline (10 June).
In addition, the Cabinet Office has also told the BBC that more than 100,000 people have downloaded the 34-page policy document since it was put online last month.
Thirty-one policy areas were available for comment, including the NHS, banking, immigration and taxation. Energy and climate change was the issue that attracted the highest number of comments (855), followed by deficit reduction (607) and transport (524).
Each government department will now respond to the comments on the subjects relevant to their policy areas, focusing on the issues that attracted the highest number of comments.
Senior ministers will also conduct a webcast in the next few weeks to deal with specific points raised by the comment.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office told the BBC: “The government is seriously committed to meaningful engagement and collaboration with the public in the online space.”