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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 10:39 GMT
Challenges ahead for e-government
Screen shot of Bracknell Forest website
Bracknell Forest lets residents pay council tax online
The UK Government faces a tough uphill struggle if it is to achieve its ambitious goals for getting all services online by 2005.

Experts like Novell, a technology firm that has worked closely with the government on e-projects, are doubtful it will reach 100% electronic delivery of services by its target date.

Novell has been working with around 20 local councils on their e-government projects.

Director of Corporate Strategy Peter Joseph believes that online government will be a mixed bag when it arrives.

Peter Joseph
Joseph: Not convinced government will hit targets
"All local governments will have some services online by 2005 but whether they will achieve all services and whether they will all be connected to each other, I doubt," he said.

"The government will be able to say in 2005 that it has achieved [things] but there will be gaps."

E-government is likely to be patchy, with some councils having minimal online content and others having more, says Mr Joseph.

E grade for government

Analyst firm Forrester Research released a damning report on e-government last year, giving many government departments an E grade for attempts to get wired and predicting that it would not reach its target.

"Our opinion hasn't changed since then," said a Forrester spokesman.

One of the biggest success stories in local government has been Bracknell Forest, in Berkshire.

It has been at the vanguard of innovation for local councils. Last year it introduced the first system in the UK for paying council tax online.

Other councils have made efforts to get wired. Vale Royal borough council in Cheshire has just unveiled a website that gives councillors instant access to information, which, it hopes, will greatly reduce the amount of red tape councillors face.

It is optimistic that the website will be available to the people of Vale Royal in a few years time.

"By 2005, Vale Royal citizens will be able to view information such as personal council tax account details, make council tax payments, enquire on planning applications, report faults and even book recreational facilities online," said Councillor Arthur Neil.

There is some doubt about how much online interaction citizens actually want with officials. A small percentage - around 11% - currently connect online with government.

Engaging services needed

Mr Joseph believes this could change if there were compelling services on government sites.

"If people can see a benefit they will use them. So, for instance, being able to book a squash court online."

One of the biggest challenges for government will be to ensure that a citizen's identity will be immediately recognisable by any central or local government department.

There also needs to be greater engagement of citizens in the process of government.

"Government now is something that happens and citizens don't really have a say. Personally I would like to be more involved in the system, take part in debates online. E-government has the potential to allow this," said Mr Joseph.

The government remains confident that it will achieve its targets.

According to the Cabinet Office - charged with making e-government a reality - there are 520 services available to citizens through central government.

Half of these are currently available online, rising to 70% by the end of this year, it says.

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Taking the web to the people
14 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
French bureaucracy takes online leap
07 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
NI gets ready for e-government
27 Aug 01 | dot life
Government starts with E
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