As local authorities race to meet the government's end-of-year deadline for getting all services online, the department that set the targets is allowing its own timetable to slip.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which is monitoring the e-government deadlines, is also in charge of the Digital Challenge, a government competition to find the local authority that takes the most innovative approach to delivering public service using technology.
Although the vast majority of councils are on track to meet the e-government target, the ODPM's Digital Challenge is six months behind schedule, even before it is formally launched.
In March, the prime minister Tony Blair said, "The Digital Challenge will be an exciting opportunity for local authority partnerships to develop and showcase really innovative ways of modernising public services and engaging the hard-to-reach with the digital world."
The supporting documents said by spring 2005 a joint steering group, regional judges and award criteria would be established. By summer there was supposed to be a call for entries, and a shortlist of 12 entries was expected by the autumn.
But the ODPM has made no announcements about the scheme since Blair's speech. Last week a spokeswoman said, "Details of the Digital Challenge are being finalised and will be announced as soon as possible." She refused to say if even the first stages of development had been completed.
Local government IT managers are eager to hear details of the challenge so they can showcase their work. Glyn Evans, chairman of the information age group at council IT managers group Socitm, said, "There is a sense that IT is driving transformation in government. There are some good things going on."
Evans was reluctant to criticise the ODPM and said there may be other issues behind the delay. The Digital Challenge would show-case the department's work too, so it was unlikely to sideline the project, he said.