Britain appears to be at the heart of the e-business revolution. But will the e-revolution increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots?
Businesses trading online shows the UK ahead of the US and well in front of its European competitors, but regional variations are massive. Deryk Outram, chair of the Computer Software and Services Association e-government group, is on record as saying the public does not give a damn about e-government and the National Consumer Council research found those most in need of public services were not motivated to use the internet.
According to Andrea Di Maio, IT analysts Gartner Group's senior researcher, there is a serious mismatch between political objectives, challenges and the state's ability to deliver. The introduction of e-services may even increase social exclusion, as those capable of using technology find it easier to access services than those less able. Just pouring money into infrastructure will not solve the problem of exclusion. Individuals and communities need to be convinced that there is real benefit.
Ann Macintosh of the International Teledemocracy Centre at Napier University argues that government is attacking the problem from the wrong end. To change attitudes, you need to use technology to allow people to influence policy.
People have lost interest in the political process; we need to replace tokenistic with genuine participative democracy. It is no good convincing the great and the good that e-government is a good thing if the public are going to turn their back on it.
There are some excellent examples of technology making a difference to communities. These include the collaboration of Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Powys CCs on a microwave communication network to allow learning, CCTV and digital democracy. Knowsley MBC's unobtrusive monitoring makes vulnerable people feel safer at home, and the council is helping citizens and employers take advantage of the digital age.
The e-revolution has been oversold; there are as few successful social applications of net technologies as there are successful dot.com companies.
The government's e-envoy Andrew Pinder is convinced that the public will come round once more services are available. But major social problems will not be solved by technology alone.
-John Serle, chair of SOCITM's best value group.