Cornwall County Council is combating social exclusion among the largely rural local community by offering access to a wide variety of public services via a Java-based smartcard.
Trials of the Cornish Key smartcards began in February. In the first phase of the project:
- Pupils at a local school are using the card to buy meals and register attendance
- 11 local libraries are accepting the card in place of existing library cards
- Some local buses accept the card for concessionary bus fares
- Local residents get cheaper car parking by paying with the card
- The card operates door entry systems for some council buildings
- The cards will be used by council workers for logging onto PCs when the council switches to Windows XP.
The second phase of the implementation will include adding leisure and tourism services, e-voting, loyalty points and e-purse facilities, including cashless vending.
Roy Cosway, Cornish Key project manager at Cornwall County Council, says the project is also committed to delivering at least 1,000 cards to local diabetics.
Medics will be equipped with smartcard readers so they can diagnose card carriers more quickly in an emergency. Students at a local medical school may also be able to use the cards to access resources remotely.
The cards have two main sections: one containing "public" information such as the user's name and address and another containing "private" information, such as transaction details, which is protected by a Pin code.
Users can check their balance and transaction history by using facilities at council sites. Alternatively, they can purchase a mobile or PC-based card reader from the council for £10 and £25 respectively.
Traders and publicans are being given the readers for free. "A lot of that is about convincing the public they can control and see what is actually on the card," says Cosway.
The scheme has attracted funding from the Government's Pathfinder project, and a second expression of interest has been submitted to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
However, it has not all been plain sailing. As well as geographical and infrastructure constraints, Cosway says Cornish people are sceptical about new technology.
Relations with the numerous suppliers involved - overseen by smartcard consultancy firm Smartex - were often strained, with poor delivery schedules, high quotes and inflexibility.
One exception was smartcard supplier Orga. "They have been really good," says Cosway. "They gave us a good quote for the card, it is a quality product and they delivered on time."
Cosway says the project team has learned a lot by taking risks. "In the public sector we usually don't take risks but we were told that taking risks with Pathfinders was more acceptable," he says.
Read more on IT jobs and recruitment
Local authorities may soon start replacing bus cards with multipurpose smartcards following agreement on a new specification by technical working groups.