Headlines: January 17th, 2003

Public take-up of local e-government services will remain low for at least the next 10 years according to research by ICM.. The study, commissioned by Portfolio Communications, took a UK wide sample.It revealed a strong correlation between preference for online services and age. Although only 7% of the UK population have contacted their local council using online services over the past 12 months, over 40% of 18 to 34 year-olds would prefer to use the Internet/Web for gaining information from local government, compared to around 20% of 35 to 54 year-olds and just 10% of 55 to 65+ year-olds.

The findings have major implications for the use of e-government services. Even if local authorities achieve targets to have such services in place by 2005, the study indicates that take-up will not increase significantly until the younger generation matures. If this prediction is correct it will be difficult to justify large investments without the evidence of mass support in the short to medium-term. It also points to a need for a widespread education programme to encourage take-up, particularly among older generations.

The study revealed that the telephone currently dominates as the main method for contacting local councils, regardless of age, sex, region or social status. The only exception to these trends being the use of direct debit to pay council bills. This suggests that local and central government should embrace the concept of contact centres and other telephony-based services to meet the clear demand for use of the telephone across all ages, regions and agegroups.

Further trends to emerge from the research are the relationships between use and preference for online services and social class, reflecting take-up and access patterns for the Internet/Web. In addition, there is a significant difference between geographic regions, with online services being more popular in the South East of England than north of the border, in Scotland.