Councils are not exploiting modern technology to engage and consult with communities. Although 83 per cent of local authorities use the Internet to invite feedback from citizens on services, take up is poor and e-participation is not communicated effectively to communities. Central government interest in e-participation is limited to expanding the voting population and there is little concern for what happens between elections. These are the main findings from ‘e-participation in local government’ published by the Institute of Public Policy Research. The report is based on a survey carried out by the Institute and supported by the Local Government Association.The survey revealed that little is being done to bridge the digital divide. The majority of councils have no access strategies for the disabled, members of minority ethnic communities, people on low incomes, people with literacy and numeracy difficulties or for the elderly. Only 7 per cent of councils provided training for their elected members in the use of the Internet to engage their electorate.
Councils are urged to use technology to engage communities in fact finding and decision making processes such as supporting scrutiny committees, as part of citizens panel work, in online Youth Parliaments and in Best Value reviews. Experiments should be mounted to explore ways in which people can be given real influence on local issues. This might include allowing citizens to set the local consultation agenda.
The report maps out measures that the Government could adopt to foster the engagement of communities online. They include making it a duty on councils to conduct experimental e-participation activities, funding a series of e-democracy pathfinder projects and running an e-democracy competition with more resources for the winner to develop further e-democracy activities.