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'ONUS IS ON LGA TO LEAD INFO TECH REVOLUTION'

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The Local Government Association must be at the cutting edge of the information technology revolution, says Derek B...
The Local Government Association must be at the cutting edge of the information technology revolution, says Derek Bateman, chairman of the Association of County Council's environment committee.

Cllr Bateman, who has his own page on the internet, is a driving force behind moves by the ACC to take advantage of new technology and 'green communications'.

Since 1992 the local government associations have established a wider-area network linking the ACC, AMA, ADC and LGA, and harmonised word-processing systems.

Now cllr Bateman is calling for a great leap forward in IT by the LGA. He is urging the association to provide computer support for councillors, an electronic library and to develop a high profile world wide web site.

He says the onus is on the LGA to anticipate future developments and set an example of how to use information technology to strengthen local democracy.

'The opportunities for councils in the information age are almost limitless. In some ways they are already leading the pack with many authorities now on the web. Still, this is only the beginning of much bigger thinks. I have a vision of councils achieving much more.

'We need to think further than just next month or next year. The technology is moving so fast that local government should be looking three to five years ahead. We not only have to anticipate the future, but define it, and carry it to our communities.

'As Andrew Carnegie pioneered the philosophy of the lending library for the masses, councils must strive to make information freely available to all, regardless of wealth, on the information superhighway. We must not have 'haves and have nots' in the information society.

'The marriage of the latest IT with the oldest of political systems - democracy - is a powerful combination. New and converging technologies give councils the chance to empower their communities. It gives us great potential to involve people in local democracy as never before.

'Singapore gives a glimpse of what this can mean. Its government is driving a technological revolution to make it an 'intelligent island'. Its people can use ATMs and other computer networks to access to government documents, and do everything from pay parking fines to forwarding freight. Companies can even submit import and export permits electronically, cutting the approval time from days to minutes.

'The same can be true of Britain. Our local government is committed to openness, consultation and information for residents. Councils already give the public much free information. Local authorities can use technology to give people more facts on the issues that affect their lives, and directly involve them in the democratic process. That can only be good for the country, for councils and for people.

'That's why the Local Government Association must be in the fast lane of the information super highway. It needs to build and maintain policies that help councils convey the benefits of new technology to people. During the coming months,I will do all I can to make this a reality.'

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