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ACTION MUST BACK UP COUNCILS' CONFIDENCE IN E-GOVERNMENT

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Although councils are confident their services can be delivered electronically within the next three years, work st...
Although councils are confident their services can be delivered electronically within the next three years, work still needs to be done, says a paper out today from the Audit Commission.

The paper examines how well councils are positioned now in terms of e-government and looks to the future regarding the government's 2005 deadline for the delivery of all public services via electronic means.

The paper, available on the Audit Commission's e-government website (see below), reports preliminary findings from halfway through the project. It is being published as a follow-up to a workshop held in December and attended by over 30 stakeholders from central and local government, the voluntary and private sectors and academic institutions. Research is ongoing.

Many companies are visibly exploiting the potential of new technology to deliver improved services to customers. The paper looks at how councils are exploiting this potential to deliver benefits to local people.

Peter Thomas, director of performance development for the Audit Commission, said:

'Evidence strongly indicates that councils recognise e-government is integral to the wider modernisation agenda.

'Findings show too that people want local public services to be more accessible and more responsive, so despite many people remaining unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of electronic service delivery, the service improvements it can deliver will help meet their rising expectations.'

The signs are encouraging. Councils are confident and optimistic about delivery - from the survey, 78 per cent of respondents feel confident of meeting the government's 2005 target with many planning for earlier implementation and making headway in engaging local people.

However, against this backdrop of optimism, evidence suggests that most projects have only recently begun and benefits realised to date are few. The survey found that over 50 per cent of work to deliver e-strategies only started in the last 12 months, and when asked to reflect upon their most successful project to date, as many as 18 per cent of e-champions said there had been none.

The two most commonly cited barriers in the survey - capacity to manage the change process and lack of ICT skills and the understanding of staff - correspond with the two success factors most commonly cited by councils.

Peter Thomas added:

'Given this, it is unsurprising that councils are making slow progress and that some key challenges are emerging. Some councils are struggling to understand how e-government fits with other priorities, and so for some it feels marginal to improving core services.'

This will form the basis of the next phase of research. The full national report will be published in July this year.

The paper can be seen in full here.

Notes

The e-government research is being carried out to address three issues:

-- Why e-government matters

-- Where councils are currently positioned to deliver

-- How they can move forwards

The interim findings are drawn from:

-- A telephone survey commissioned from Mori of 179 council officers from a sample of 62 English councils

-- Site visits to councils

-- Four focus groups with local people facilitated by Mori

-- An analysis of a sample of inspection reports

The study team also holds regular discussions with colleagues in audit and inspection, the Improvement and Development Agency, the Local Government Association and central government departments. The team also draws on the expertise of a wider group of advisors, including council officers.

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