Socitm confident most councils will meet e-government deadline

Councils are battling to meet the 2005 target for making When the prime minister Tony Blair first declared that all government...

When the prime minister Tony Blair first declared that all government services would be online by 2005, it was a different world. In 2000, IT suppliers on the crest of the dotcom wave were making outlandish claims, and businesses were anxious to launch anything starting with an "e".

The dotcom dream faded long ago, but council IT staff have continued the dogged work to meet the e-government deadline. Daunting though the work may have been, the end is in sight.

"We will see significant achievement around the target," said Eric Woods, government practice director at analyst firm Ovum. "There will be some stars and some laggards, but overall B+."

Glyn Evans, chairman of the information age government group within local authority IT managers' group Socitm, said, "I am reasonably confident most councils will hit the 2005 target. It has been a major exercise. But not all business managers have necessarily seen it as a priority."

With the e-government deadline looming, this perception was changing, Evans said. "There is a growing recognition that the role of IT is to support business change, not just deliver a technology function - and that started with the e-government agenda. But this is only laying the foundations. We need to look at how we run the back-office systems and support the priorities within the organisation."

Despite the prime minister's hopes and Socitm's confidence in long-term success, the UK's e-government progress is not spectacular. A Cap Gemini Ernst & Young survey for the European Commission earlier this year found that the UK ranked sixth in Europe for putting government services online.

According to the research, the UK had 50% of public services online, compared with 33% in the previous year and 24% in 2002. However, France was among five countries ahead of the UK, with 71% of services available online.

Because the researchers did not break down central and local government services, it is difficult to tell whether local authorities or Whitehall are responsible for the UK's sluggish performance.

To bolster the UK's position, earlier this year Whitehall announced £220m of additional funding for councils to provide online services. All local authorities will get £500,000 to fund e-projects over the next two years. And £20m of the financing is tied to delivery of national e-government projects.

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