Headlines: December 11th, 2002

Almost half of the 441 local councils in England, Scotland and Wales believe they will meet the government’s 2005 target date for 100 per cent electronic service delivery. Slightly fewer than four out of every ten authorities are not sure they will meet the deadline and the others say they are concentrating on those services which they think will offer the greatest benefits.The figures have been released today by the Society of IT Management following its survey, ‘IT Trends 2002/3 – Halfway to 2005′ which is based on responses from about 200 heads of ICT in local authorities and about the same number of replies to shorter questionnaires sent to e-champions, heads of social services and local authority IT suppliers.

It shows 46 per cent of councils confident of meeting the 2005 deadline with 39 per cent less sure of doing so and 15 per cent saying they are focusing their efforts on e-enabling services which are likely to deliver the greatest benefits. The survey also reveals that councils estimate the total cost of e-government implementation up to the deadline will be 2 billion pounds, though they are unable to say at this stage how almost half of that total cost will be funded.

The Socitm report highlights concerns about the involvement of officers and members with the e-government agenda. The survey found that in only half of local authorities was the chief executive or a member of the management team in charge of the programme. Staff and members of many councils, it says, have too little knowledge of their own e-government plans and even less about the government’s national strategy. At the same time e-champions believe that many councils’ programmes are not well enough integrated into the authorities’ other activities such as Best Value Reviews and drawing up community policies.

The trends survey shows an average of 30 per cent of council services now available on online. The e-projects councils judge to be most worth pursuing are developing e-mail, improving websites to offer more information and interactive services and implementing contact centres. The study also found mixed progress in tackling Data Protection issues. It also reports progress on joined-up working with other authorities and with the Health Service. Results also show spending on ICT continuing to rise. It was up 6 per cent on 2001-2 and has risen by 22 per cent since 1998.

Brian Westcott, editor of IT Trends, said overall the survey shows good progress is being made but there were concerns. “It’s worrying for example that while most councils now have an agreed e-government programme setting out specific projects and a likely timetable to 2005, a third of these plans do not contain project cost estimates, ” he said. More needed to be done, he added, in terms of sharing learning and development costs and even ICT resources which would increase efficiency without the loss of local independence and identity.