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Let's come together ...
Let's come together

The cash available for the development of e-government projects is being shared out between 409 councils. Would the 409 be better off if they worked together rather than going it alone?

Local government minister Nick Raynsford thinks they would. Last month he indicated a considerable proportion of the£350m earmarked for e-government would go on projects where councils were working together.

James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich BC, recently said: 'It makes more sense to get neighbouring authorities joined up and then look at the regional context.'

However, it can be difficult and challenging to use the cheap and versatile technology as a stimulus to breaking down administrative silos and joining-up government.

To do this requires a redistribution of power and resources, as well as a cultural shift in working practices. This should not only take place between different tiers and departments in central and local government but externally too, with businesses and communities.

The US has arguably the most advanced e-government network in the world, and it is the Americans local government can turn to for ideas.

In Utah, for example, the state portal provides the citizen and business communities with a single point of entry to numerous councils, including Salt Lake City. The portal provides a single point of technology for those councils to run their online services.

San Francisco's Cityspan site contains over 10,000 pages of public information and regularly facilitates tens of thousands of transactions each month.

San Francisco's chief information officer Liza Lowery explained: 'Local governments working together with other levels of government is the only way to meet the public's needs'.

Given the costs and timescale involved with delivering joined-up e-government, the most effective answer in the short term could be to consider joining up to deliver e-government services at a regional level.

Ian Busby

Chief executive officer, E-Government Solutions

Camden tackles its digital paradox

Camden LBC sits at the heart of the digital economy - there is probably a higher concentration of digital businesses located in Camden than anywhere else in the country.

But much of Camden's population is excluded from participating in this digital revolution. Lack of access opportunities, skills and relevant content have lead to what has been dubbed the 'Camden paradox.'

By adopting a holistic approach to the digital divide, the council is working to make sure it is a short-lived paradox.

It is a borough of great inequality. It contains some of the richest and some of the poorest areas in the country. Combating this inequality is the number one priority for the council.

The first barrier to be overcome is access. Camden has worked with local community and voluntary groups to secure funding through the UKOnline initiative to establish a network of 28 ICT centres across the borough.

These will be located in council premises such as libraries and in community centres. They will be supplemented by cyber cafés in the council's one-stop shops and by community initiatives in schools.

But access will mean little if people are not provided with the necessary skills. Key partners in Camden's UKOnline initiative are the local further education colleges which will provide a range of ICT activities

and training.

These will range from structured group activities such as informal tasters to high-level accredited programmes such as the European Computer Driver Licence qualification, desktop publishing, business packages, and multimedia production and editing. Library staff will be deployed to support individual informal learning in the community centres.

Camden is a vibrantly diverse borough - 140 languages or dialects are spoken in its schools - and there is a need to reflect this cultural diversity in the content available on the internet.

Overwhelmingly, web content in the world at large represents a narrow cultural viewpoint of little relevance to other traditions. Camden is therefore establishing websites where communities can create their own content to meet their own needs.

Some of these will support specific localities while others will be established to support specific cultural and ethnic groups. The beauty of cyberspace is it can reflect the complex social environment we inhabit.

Glyn Evans

Head of ICT, Camden LBC

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