Audit Commission calls for more e-government support

Despite last week's £511m cash injection from Whitehall to boost e-government strategies, a report from the Audit Commission...

Despite last week's £511m cash injection from Whitehall to boost e-government strategies, a report from the Audit Commission warns that local authorities still need substantial continuing support from central government.

The report, Message Beyond the Medium - Improving Local Government Services Through E-government, warned that councils lack the critical combination of IT and business skills needed for the successful development of e-government and would benefit from greater and better-targeted government support.

Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, said, "E-government needs to be driven from the very top and should be seen as core to the way a council does business, not an add-on."

He added, "Greater government support to help councils access the [IT] skills they lack could help to close the gap between the technologically adept and those still unsure about how to move forward."

Last week the Government announced £511m spending over the next three years to support the Local Government Online strategy. The money, which is part of the 2002 Spending Review, is designed to help local authorities to meet the 2005 deadline for getting services online.

Council IT managers, while welcoming the extra funding, have warned that the Government must ensure that it delivers results. One local authority IT manager in the North West, who asked not to be named, said. "One of the key issues is focusing that spending to ensure that it delivers e-government."

He also pointed to the importance of partnerships and best practice. "Partnership arrangements and sharing best practice will ensure that the best use is made of the money," he said.

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which handles e-government, welcomed the Audit Commission report. "It is a helpful contribution to the debate on finalising the national strategy for local e-government."

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Office of the E-envoy, the Local Government Association and the Improvement and Development Agency are co-operating to provide financial, technical and policy support to councils, he said.

The Audit Commission report, which surveyed 132 local authorities, found that most are optimistic about e-government. For example, 66% of councils that see the 2005 target as an important milestone expect to achieve it but 20% of councils are still planning e-government rather than delivering it.

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