The drive for online government takes many different forms, and in Exeter the local authority has decided to use tourism as a catalyst for its Web site development, writes Mike Simons.
The Web site offers a range of local tourism, leisure, business and transport services, as well as news and "what's on" pages and links to other Web sites in the South West.
Potential holidaymakers can take a 3D tour of the city with 360¼ panoramic views of historic Exeter or zoom in and out of local buildings. The tour also offers links to more views and Web sites, or a page of information.
New additions to the site include the music of local bands, including free MP3 tracks available for downloading. Leisure and arts coverage is boosted by the support of local businesses and services. The business pages include information on local firms and facilities, highlight development grants and also offer investment advice.
The local services page offers the usual suspects, including the essential list of information numbers and links to council departments and agencies. There are links to utilities, other sites and local papers and a page of council job vacancies.
For Paul Gubb, programmer in the council's IT development department, "this is less exciting" than the tourism offerings but, he adds, it is useful nonetheless.
The site also includes a number of online forms including complaints forms, "lookout" forms to report problems on Exeter's streets and a benefits fraud reporting form.
Site administrator Will Austin hopes to develop another site with BT and Exeter University, "to take some of the tourist content and let us develop the exeter.gov site to hit government targets for electronic government".
The next steps include making some council databases available online, developing online benefit applications with other agencies, as well as GIS mapping systems to allow Web visitors to view fully-interactive maps of the city.
Exeter's site may not be leading the charge towards e-government, but with 800 pages of information it is a solid base on which to go forward. It certainly provides for the region's varied population - local residents and the hordes of tourists who see the city as the gateway to their West Country holiday.
Know of an innovative public sector project? If so, e-mail Mike Simons
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This was first published in February 2000