The Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit has proposed that councils should be set a digital challenge to bring excellence and equity in ICT. The challenge would be sponsored by the Government and industry, with prizes for councils and their public and private sector partners. The task would be to establish universal access, advance public service delivery and provide a test-bed for best practice in e-government. The deadline for delivery would be 2008.The strategy document sets out a vision of a groundbreaking partnership of the private, public and community sectors in demonstrating the best e-enabled public services as a model for the future. It would focus on extending the reach of e-services to excluded groups such as older people or children in poor families without access to e-services as well as driving take-up by the e-literate. Emphasis would also be placed on piloting high-quality, high-speed public services.
Candidates would be able to draw on proven expertise and techniques highlighted by the experience of ODPM’s national programmes for IT, the forthcoming e-government unit strategy for future government services and build upon the lessons for using technology to address inequality highlighted by a new report to be published by the Social Exclusion Unit.
The challenge would be used as a test bed to learn more about delivery of egovernment services. It would help to answer questions such as what does the citizen customer want from digitally-enabled government? What density of community access is required? What support is needed? What obstacles arise and how are they overcome?
There would be a strong emphasis on evaluation and behavioural research, especially into the customer proposition and behaviour. There would be scope for democratic innovations to be employed, such as business improvement districts or new mechanisms such as neighbourhood improvement districts.
The challenge will last for three financial years from 2006/07 and involve regional ‘heats’ of the competition to select the council partnership which should represent their region. Each regionally nominated community will receive 100,000 pounds to develop their bids. The national competition would be based on the ‘City of Culture’ model. Further details will be announced in summer 2005.
The strategy document also sets out proposals to give secondary school pupils the opportunity to access ICT at home with schools buying equipment. The Home Office will set up a multi-agency national Internet safety centre to deter criminals targeting the UK for Internet crime and reassure parents. The strategy also provides a framework for the Government to consider how it moves its business to a wholly digital environment where it is appropriate and cost-effective.