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E-government is far more than just putting existing services online, says Phil Swann. ...
E-government is far more than just putting existing services online, says Phil Swann.
No one can say we have not been warned. Report after report has highlighted the fact that the full potential of e-government is not being exploited.
Traditional businesses such as publishing and retailing have been quick to accommodate the net, but less so at creating entirely new business models.
Most early online government services are existing ones available electronically . They include NHS Direct, the Ofsted inspection database and courts, employment, pensions and tax services.
There is little sign of thought on how technology can change the way government operates. Government has not responded to the challenge posed by the Performance and Innovation Unit to set targets for electronic service delivery. There are fears ministers' reliance on yet more targets is reinforcing this lowest common denominator approach.
The focus on e-government in the UK has been led by central government. Bur a number of councils have developed innovative approaches.
Knowsley MBC was one of the first councils to launch an e-government strategy, with three strands of education, employment and citizens. It is now addressing the council as a whole.
In east London, Newham Online is providing the community with an accessible, cost-effective and socially inclusive broadband network. It includes Newham Young People Online, cheap internet access for businesses and a local extranet.
Devon CC plans to support sustainability, economic regeneration and lifelong learning. A network aims will cover issues such as benefits, travel and child-care from a range of providers .
But in many cases councils are falling into the same trap as government - e-government is a bolt-on extra or an existing service provided differently.
It is crucial councils and their partners are imaginative enough to avoid this straitjacket for e-services. But there is a real danger the government's online targets will frogmarch them. The Local Government Association argues that if councils follow some e-guidelines, this scenario can be avoided:
-Councils should focus on getting communities connected to information age opportunities
-When considering the potential of the e-revolution, councils should consider their roles - as community leaders, for example - rather than narrowly defining a traditional range of services
-Technology is constantly mutating. The focus must be on imaginative approaches to new technology, rather than devotion to one system.
Phil Swann, director of communications, Local Government Association.
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