Local authorities have been encouraged to "set their own targets" for the electronic delivery of services by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR). However, they have been warned that targets must still be consistent with prime minister Tony Blair's 2005 deadline for central government "as far as practicable".
Local authorities had been conspicuous by their absence from the Government's e-delivery targets, although IT professionals have been assuming that they will have to meet Blair's deadline for central government.
The DETR has now issued a consultation document, under the snappy title Information Age Government Targets For Local Government, to formalise the process.
The document says, "Many local authorities have used the Internet imaginativelyÉ and have developed or are developing a major ICT-based evolution in information and service delivery."
But the praise barely conceals the steely intent. "Local government and central government alike are only beginning to tap the potential for enhancing electronic government by building-in shared use of data and resources, better interoperability of systems and setting up shared infrastructure," it says.
The consultation document sets out targets and practices that local authorities might contemplate, including setting up local e-government strategies and designating a senior manager to oversee projects.
In the document, the DETR admits that the task of IT managers is complicated by the Best Value regime which was introduced to local authorities this year.
Later this month, the DETR is expected to begin formal consultation on "one or two best value performance indicators to provide a nationally consistent framework for measuring progress towards e-government".
The department recognises the problems of measuring local authorities' progress, saying, "It will be some time before either local or national performance targets can be setÉ because an initial set of data on how local authorities are doing will not be available until outcomes for 2001-2002 have been analysed."
This could mean problems ahead for hard-pressed IT managers of cash-strapped local authorities faced with moving targets. It will certainly put a premium on having flexible IT strategies.
Socitm, the local authority IT managers' organisation, is preparing a response to the document and the DETR has called for councils to give their views by 9 August.
The department says replies should focus on proposed targets that address two specific themes:
The document is available