Research carried out at 24 local authorities where users are taking the European computer driving licence showed that although users think it is a flexible qualification and believe it leads to increased productivity, it is taken because it is a "good idea" rather than as part of a co-ordinated strategic approach.
Few local authorities recognise training as a strategic issue for e-government targets. A study by the BCS, local government IT management organisation Socitm Insight and the Improvement and Development Agency estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 staff have completed their first ECDL module.
Pete Bayley, ECDL director at the BCS, said, "While we are extremely pleased the ECDL is being used as a benchmark qualification, the number of passes so far represents only a small percentage of those who use IT as an essential part of their job.
"This is in stark contrast to Italy, for example, where the government aims to have its entire public sector workforce - more than two million people - ECDL-qualified by the end of 2007.
"If commitment to training staff for e-government is to be maintained, it is essential the momentum for IT training keeps pace."
Elsewhere in the public sector, the NHS is setting up an online training and testing facility to help its 700,000 staff gain the ECDL. In one study, the NHS found that staff achieving the qualification saved nearly 40 working minutes a day. Less than 5% of users said they needed to call on IT support regularly, compared to the 71% who did so before achieving the qualification.
Gaining the ECDL is being seen as a career boost at the Mid and West Wales Fire Brigade, where fire officers have become the first to be offered the qualification.
"The ECDL will give our officers the skills to make effective use of our systems," said training manager Robert Rees. "It will also help officers progress up the career ladder as we view the ECDL as a prerequisite for the post of supervisory officer."
Earlier this month a government white paper on reforms to the fire service proposed a greater use of IT in areas ranging from risk management to collating statistics.
In the UK alone more than 600,000 people have achieved or have started working for the ECDL in the past five years. The UK now has the biggest take-up worldwide.
The ECDL consists of seven modules: IT concepts; using a computer and managing files; word processing; spreadsheets; databases; presentation graphics; and communication.
For more information on the ECDL
Passing the Test: a Snapshot of the ECDL Experience (£90)