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46% OF COUNCILS WILL ACHIEVE THE 2005 E-TARGETS

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46% of local authorities will achieve the 2005 e-targets with 39% unsure and 15% choosing to focus on their own tar...
46% of local authorities will achieve the 2005 e-targets with 39% unsure and 15% choosing to focus on their own targets says SOCITM's IT Trends survey 2002/3*.

* total cost of local e-government estimated at£2bn to 2005

* 30% of council services are now available on line (up from 25% in 2001)

* email, website development and contact centres are most favoured e-projects

Nearly half of the 441 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland say they are on target to meet the government's 2005 deadline for 100% electronic service delivery. 39% are less sure of meeting the deadline while 15% say they are focusing instead on on e-enabling services likely to deliver to deliver the greatest benefit.

These are among the findings of IT Trends 2002/3 - Halfway to 2005, published by SOCITM, the Society of IT Management. The survey, an annual exercise now in its 16th year, is based this year on responses from around 200 Heads of ICT from among the 441 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland, plus a further 200 or so responses to shorter questionnaires sent to e-champions, heads of social services, and local authority IT suppliers.

The survey sheds considerable light on progress being made on local e-government implementation but also highlights areas of weakness and some of the factors inhibiting progress. Overall, councils estimate the total cost of e-government implementation up to 2005 to be£2bn, although at this stage councils are unable to say how nearly half of that estimated spend will be funded.

The report also highlights worries about the engagement of officers and members with the e-government agenda. The survey shows that in only half of authorities is the chief executive or a member of the management team in charge of the programme. Officers and members in many authorities are thought to have insufficient knowledge of their own e-government programmes and know even less about the government's National Strategy for Local e-government. E-champions also believe that e-government programmes are insufficiently integrated into other council activities, such as drawing up community policies and carrying out best value reviews: just 13% of authorities are judged to give to give thorough consideration to opportunities ICT offers to improve services.

IT Trends shows that, on average, around 30% of council services are now available online (up from 25% in 2001). Over two thirds of authorities have undertaken some form of public consultation on e-government and are making a conscious effort to identify service priorities, including the 15% who say they have gone so far as to leave the government targets on one side in order to meet their own priorities. E-projects judged to be most worth pursuing at present are: developing email; enhancing websites to provide more infomation and interactive services, and implementing contact centres. 35% of authorities now have contact centres and the number looks set to double by 2005. Interestin DiTV is lukewarm at present and smart card applications are growing slowly.

As well as the customer facing aspects of e-government, IT Trends reports mixed progress in tackling the issues of Data Protection and data security which are vital to public confidence in information age government. On data security, susceptibility to virus attacks has declined, but 28% of authorities are without an ICT security policy and few councils are yet able to encrypt data or authenticate citizens - vital steps for handling sensitive and personal data electronically. The survey provides evidence that public interest in the data authorities hold is growing fast and this has implications for when provisions of the Freedom of Information Act come into force.

IT Trends also reports on progress with joined up working, both with other local authorities and, thanks to a special questionnaire completed by local authority heads of social services, with the health service. Respondents reported some 300 partnership projects in progress, with the most popular subjects for partnerships being to do with portals, contact centres, systems for joint care assessment and procurement.

In terms of ICT spending the survey shows that there is a continuing increase: up 6% on 2001/2 and up 22% since 1998. The number of people employed in local authority ICT is also rising, increasing in half of the authorities surveyed, staying the same in a further 30% and falling in just 20%. ICT performance is also highlighted in the report, which points out the significant differences between the best and least well performing councils.

According to Brian Westcott, editor of IT Trends, the survey overall shows that good progress is being made, but that concerns remain: '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, one third of these plans do not contain project cost estimates. It is also clear that, while IT Trends shows that some joint working and sharing of resources is taking place, there is scope to do much more: sharing learning and development costs, and even ICT resources would increase efficiency and can be done without loss of local independence and identity.'

Copies of the 92pp report IT Trends 2002/3 - Halfway to 2005, cost£300 to commercial organisations (£250 to SOCITM subscriber members) and£50 to local authorities and other not-for-profit organisations. Copies can be ordered from www.socitm.gov.uk or from the SOCITM office on 01604 674800.

* Available on LGCnet.

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