Councils join forces to create e-forms

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Councils join forces to create e-forms

Local authorities in Newcastle and Cleveland pool resources to simplify form-filling, writes Karl Cushing

Two local authorities in the North East have teamed up to buy a software package that will enable them to develop electronic forms that will help citizens access council services via the Internet and in a more simple and interactive way.

The IT departments of Newcastle City Council and Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council have invested £53,300 and £41,000 in Mandoforms' E-Forms product respectively. The move means the councils' IT departments will be able to create simplified versions of complex council forms online relatively quickly and easily. The councils also hope the product will help them to capture user data securely.

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council says that previously the only electronic forms available through its Web site were for job applications. The ultimate aim is to produce electronic equivalents of all the customer-centric paper forms the council currently uses and make them accessible via the council's Web site.

"In the short-term, these will be the most asked-for forms at customer service centres by citizens and businesses - council tax, housing applications, and licences," the spokesman said. "A free Internet service will be available at libraries for those who do not have access to a home PC."

Roll out will be made easier because both councils are already using the same Lotus Notes platform. The Newcastle spokesman explained that by buying the e-forms software together, the two hope to speed up the deployment of electronic forms on their Web sites.

The councils have worked closely over the past year, with the Web team for the e-forms project liaising with key departments such as customer services to evaluate the product and make sure it meets the councils' future needs.

The application automatically tailors questions within each form to an end-user's previous responses and validates the information they provide as they type. The aim is to enable faster and more accurate form completion.

The E-Forms product is also being used by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council and other authorities. The idea is that any forms they develop will be made available free-of-charge for other authorities to use, modify and deploy on their Web sites.

The two North East councils do not plan to limit their new online forms to their Web sites, however. Newcastle City Council plans to use the product for digital interactive television and both authorities will deploy e-forms on the networks of touch-screen kiosks they plan to roll out in the region. Newcastle has been trialling digital television, and on-street kiosks for the past two years.

The spokesman for Newcastle City Council said the e-forms project is a key part of the council's drive to not just meet but beat the 2005 e-government deadlines. The council has signed a local public service agreement to be ready by March 2004.

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