Headlines: October 14th, 2004

Almost all Britain’s local councils believe they will meet the 2005 e-Government targets in spite of the time and budget challenges but only 12 per cent of people are aware of the drive towards e-Government according to a new report. The study, carried out by ntl, which provides communications services to the public sector, also warns that fears over security could dampen the success of the electronic revolution.The research was conducted in parallel among local government organisations and a sample of the public and it highlights significant progress in the roll out of e-Government and a lack of awareness among the general public. It also points to a fragmented approach to the transformation of the delivery of Public Services.

The study found that 98% of local government bodies now claim to be on track to meet the 2005 targets set by Central Government. But it also reveals that time and budget restrictions have created increased stress levels for nearly half of the councils surveyed. The authors of the report say those authorities that do hit the deadline are unlikely to do so to popular acclaim. The Public Sector believes that 40 per cent of Internet users are aware of electronic services, but the ntl research shows only 12 per cent of the Internet literate population are aware of the drive for e-Government. Fewer than one in ten of them currently use electronic services regularly.

One more encouraging result of the research is that more than two thirds of citizens say they are keen to pay taxes or fines online and would log-on to vote or access entertainment and information services over the Internet. The report says that with 85 per cent of people keen to access services outside office hours, e-Government could be a winner – once people know that it is there.

Lack of awareness, though, is not the only obstacle to the success of e-services. The research found that security was a major concern for people thinking of interacting electronically with their local authority. Two thirds worry about data protection issues and a third expressed reservations about security of online transactions. Those fears, the report says, are being addressed by the public sector with security cited as the number one priority for e-Government investment now and beyond 2005.

The research also reveals a fragmented approach to e-Government services and raises the prospect of a ‘postcode lottery’. Organisations, it claims, are not maximising their investment in new technology and only half of those surveyed had used an aggregated approach to specification and spending. In spite of Central Government’s emphasis on improving ‘joined up’ working with other public sector areas like health and education, local authorities see this as being of only secondary importance to putting services online.