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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 12:12 GMT
UK 'lags in e-government'
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Ireland is beating the UK when it comes to providing citizens with useful e-government services.

According to research firm IDC, Ireland alongside France and Finland are leaders in Europe when it comes to providing sophisticated systems allowing citizens to transact with the government on the net.

Services such as paying tax and social contributions as well as applying for jobs online are all available in the Irish Republic, despite a fairly low number of internet users.

By contrast, analysts say the picture in the UK is far more patchy.

Officials accept that Britain is lagging behind other countries but say they are working to improve the situation.

European league

The UK is well down both in terms of the sophistication of its systems and country readiness
James Weir, IDC analyst
"Central government is making good strides but there is a lot of work to be done on the backend systems," said IDC analyst James Weir.

"But at local government level e-directives are being pushed out in a very fragmentary way and is therefore very patchy. Some of doing well, while others are not even on the page," he said.

The UK is near the bottom of the European league table when it comes to readiness for e-government.

Scandinavian neighbours Denmark, Sweden and Norway are the closest to delivering online government to citizens according to IDC's research.

"The UK is well down both in terms of the sophistication of its systems and country readiness," said Mr Weir.

'Strategy for reform'

The European Union has set deadlines for member states to have half of government transactions online by 2005.

The UK is aiming to have all government services online by the same date. But these objectives need to be put in perspective, said Mr Weir.

"You have to be careful how government presents this. Online also includes telephone calls and can just mean presenting information to citizens rather than transactional services," said Mr Weir.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the e-Envoy acknowledged that the UK was lagging behind other countries.

"We recognise that British citizens and businesses are not yet using government services online in the numbers that match the best in the world," she said

And more is being done to create a coherent policy across all government departments.

" We are working with departments to agree a strategy for reform, designed to improve the development, delivery and communication of our online services," she added.

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