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COMMENT - E-STRATEGY LAUNCHED TO A STORM OF INDIFFERENCE

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The provision of local government services through the internet took a modest step forward this week with the publi...
The provision of local government services through the internet took a modest step forward this week with the publication of the draft national strategy on local e-government.

Less marginalised than it once was, technology is still something that, if they are honest, fails to ignite many in local government and the strategy is unlikely to change that.

Progress toward the 2005 target is slow, and there are forces within the DTLR who would prefer simply to tell councils what to do instead of faffing around with consultation.

Such an approach would be a case of the blind leading the blind. A National Audit Office report has found central government is struggling to make a success of

e-government. Half its services are online, but most are information only and none collect revenue. Civil servants just do not understand how to use IT, the report adds.

But even if central government had solved every problem, a prescriptive approach towards local government would not work.

Technology is part of government, not just an efficiency test councils pass or fail. It has to be tied into the local political vision or it will not produce results.

As a speaker at last year's Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers conference observed, getting in all the latest technology without knowing why is like 'putting lipstick on a pig - the pig doesn't necessarily look any better'.

There is no point in having a hi-tech information kiosk if you have no communications vision.

This is precisely what the draft strategy has failed to address, say critics. It may have avoided prescription but it has not tackled the vision element. It will not enthuse IT-phobic councillors to invest time in e-government and is destined to gather dust on shelves.

Perhaps the government is saving this discussion for its paper on e-democracy. But e-democracy and e-services are one and the same. The changes IT can make to services, by improving consultation, accessibility and quality, will add to the democratic process.

There ought to be a buzz around e-government. At a time when councils are being performance-managed into the ground,

e-government is as important locally as it is nationally. It has been argued that the comprehensive performance assessment takes the ballot box out of the equation. Can IT can put it back in?

The strategy must excite interest. Not being talked about will be its biggest failing.

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