UK councils take the lead on-line

15 Nov 01
UK local authorities are edging ahead of their US counterparts in offering public services on-line, according to research published by an e-government business group.

16 November 2001

Statistics show that 51 councils now offer the option of paying council tax on-line, representing 11% of all UK local authorities. This compares with the 9% of US authorities that offer on-line parking ticket payments, the most common form of Internet transaction.

But the survey, by Internet-based research body (BVC), found that work still needed to be done if councils are to have a chance of meeting the 2005 deadline for offering services electronically. Only 70 of the 447 UK councils with a website are using them to offer e-services.

Of these, 28 allow residents to take part in on-line consultations, while 27 have building and planning-related forms that can be downloaded. Just 18 authorities let the public check the status of planning applications over the Internet. A mere 14 councils allow residents to report faults through their websites.

Peter McHugh, business development manager of Consilium Technologies, which owns BVC, said many councils were unlikely to meet the government's 2005 target, with lack of resources being the main problem.

'They will have difficulty meeting the targets from a funding point of view,' he said. 'A lot of effort will have to be directed towards integrating back-end systems. Lots of base technologies exist, or are coming through, but how will they be applied? There is still a lot of work to be done.'

Some councils believe the demands of e-government conflict with other aspects of the modernisation agenda, such as Best Value, McHugh said. 'A lot of local authorities are saying: "putting services on-line is not the way to deliver Best Value".'

But he emphasised that many councils were performing better than central government and, although meeting the 2005 target was a slim prospect, there was nevertheless an irrevocable shift towards electronic service delivery.

'The UK has a reputation for being behind other countries, but if you look at local government, the picture is a lot less gloomy than is being painted.'


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