Headlines: November 11th, 2002

Although elected members of councils have been taking decisions about e-government for several years, a large number have been reluctant to dip their toe in the information technology pool. This is surprising in one sense because most of them do at least some of their work at home and IT can contribute to the efficiency of homeworking. There are now clear indications that change is gathering momentum and increasing number are taking the plunge into the IT pool.The capital cost of connecting members has been a drawback, with many higher priority projects. Councils are now finding cheaper, but effective ways of getting them on line. Tynedale council has recycled 50 out of date PCs. Other councils, such as Test Valley, give members a monthly allowance, usually about 60 pounds, to cover the cost of the PC, consumables and Internet connection. This removes the need for capital expenditure. Some councils, such as Powys, install a flat screen plus keyboard in homes and provide a dial up link to a server in the town hall. This system is supplied by Esteem, a company specializing in homeworking.

Getting connected gives members e-mail contact with staff in the town hall, with other members and with the public. It gives access to meeting agendas and minutes, the council website and the Internet. Increasingly access is also being given to the council intranet so that files can be accessed directly.

Although a significant number of members continue to decline offers of connection, for those who do take up the challenge it brings an educational experience of what e-government is about.