Make quality of e-government services your top priority, councils are warned

Local authority and public sector IT directors from across the UK gathered in Edinburgh this week for the Society for IT...

Local authority and public sector IT directors from across the UK gathered in Edinburgh this week for the Society for IT Management (Socitm) conference.

Socitm president Chris Guest, speaking ahead of the event, said that driving adoption of e-government services among citizens would be the big challenge in the next 12 months for his members.

Guest, head of technology and improvement at Flintshire County Council, said many local authorities were still too focused on delivering online services when the agenda has moved on.

"I feel we should be focusing on how we can make the 'e' in e-government about effectiveness and efficiency. If we do not make our new electronic services effective and get our customers to use them, we will not deliver the efficiency gains, which now appear to be expected from the Gershon Review [the government's public sector efficiency review] and the government," he said.

Increasing take-up has to be high on all agendas both locally and centrally, according to Guest. "This increase in take-up will only be delivered if citizens value and get real benefits from using electronic channels," he said. "They need to see greater convenience in accessing services, better response times and real improvements to service quality."

This means an emphasis on delivering effective joined-up services based on citizens' needs, rather than organisation structures and boundaries, Guest added.

Local authority IT departments in particular could face budgetary constraints as central government funding for pilot e-government projects comes to an end.

"As existing funding streams dry up, sustainability of e-government initiatives will be a challenge for many. Without funding, will e-government remain a priority for local councillors?" said Guest. "We have to demonstrate how IT and e-government makes a difference to our services and our organisations so they stay high on the political agenda."

Other challenges for 2005 include the impact of devolved and regional government, but Guest insisted the main risk facing his members was providing the core systems that keep their organisations running.

He said, "We have to be sure we are not distracted by the wider e-government agenda and, as a result, take our eye off the ball in terms of addressing key infrastructure issues such as resilience, availability, cost effective- ness, manageability and security."

Watmore's role

The new head of e-government Ian Watmore got the thumbs up from Socitm. Chris Guest said Watmore showed a good understanding of the role to be played by local government in the overall e-government process.

One area Socitm wants to see Watmore take action on is the problem of the different timescales and priorities being pursued by different parts of government.

Socitm also wants Watmore to tackle the legislative issues that appear to block effective information sharing, particularly between public sector organisations that are subject to service-specific legislation.

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