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LOCAL COUNCILLORS' WEBSITE PROJECT LAUNCHED

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Ten local authorities have signed up for a pioneering e-democracy project to give every one of their councillors an...
Ten local authorities have signed up for a pioneering e-democracy project to give every one of their councillors an easy to manage website.

The ten 'pilot' councils taking part in the Local Government Association 'councillor.info' project will be offering councillors the opportunity to launch their own innovative websites this autumn following trials over the summer. In addition, a consortium of councils in south east London will be evaluating the project with a test group of their councillors.

Currently, only a tiny minority of local councillors have their own websites. A councillor.info survey in 2002 showed that the main reasons for this were the technical barriers, the cost of management of such a service,

and the legal issues raised by councils providing such websites for local councillors.

The councillor.info project as been developed by the LGA and technical partners, Poptel Technology Ltd, to overcome these obstacles. The websites will be built to a very high standard of 'accessible web design'.

The project is seen as an important means of developing the role of local representatives.

Tony Martin of Lancashire CC said: 'Communications are changing. Public representatives once linked with the public through public meetings.

'They are long-gone and, once the history of e-government is written, it will be initiatives such as this that will be seen to have re-established that link.'

Willie Smith of Corby BC said: 'This project provides a unique opportunity to enhance and develop the day to day work of members in regard to both their representational role and their role in the wider community.'

The project will ensure that participating councillors are easier to communicate with.

Andrew Tebbutt of Castle Morpeth BC said: 'Regular newsletters play an important role in maintaining contact, but having a website will allow me to communicate much more quickly on a range of issues.'

Keith Knaggs, of Ryedale DC said: 'As a co uncillor in a very rural district, I am pleased that we have taken the opportunity to take part in the 'councillor.info' project.

'With Internet usage growing nationally and locally, these websites offer the chance to heighten interest in local decision making without burying the community in paper.'

The project is also seen as a new way to engage local people and communicate the relevance of local government - and to counteract falling voter turnout.

Tom Stephenson, Leicester's town clerk, said: 'Leicester's councillors are keen to support this new way of helping people to be better informed and involved in council activities.'

Mr Martin added: 'Wherever there are computers in the world, our councillors will be represented - 24 hours per day, seven days per week. There are many countries in the world that could learn from where councillor.info's

pathfinder authorities are leading.'

NOTES

The councillor.info project has been developed by the LGA in partnership with Poptel Technology Ltd. The ten councils taking part in the 'Pilot' project are:

Alnwick DC

Blackburn with Darwen BC

Castle Morpeth BC

Corby BC

Lancashire CC

Leicester City Council

Middlesbrough Council

Ryedale DC

Sandwell MBC

Wirral MBC

In addition, a partnership of councils - south east London electronic government services will be providing websites to a test group of councillors.

The government's consultation paper on e-democracy which came out last summer, set out policy for using technology to make democracy more real and relevant to everyday life - and open up new channels in the democratic process.

Around 40% of MPs now have websites and they support links with thir constituents. 50% of people in the UK now have access to the Internet (MORI technology tracker March 2003), and the UK is one of the world's most connected economies.

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