22 April 2003
Councils in England are beginning to see the benefits and far-reaching implications of eGovernment, but a lack of sufficient skills and understanding across their organisations is hindering their progress, a new government report has found.
A survey of every English local authority, commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, claims to have found widespread evidence that eGovernment is impacting positively on access to council information and services, increasing the take-up of local services and encouraging flexible working. However it also shows that many are less convinced on whether eGovernment is helping to reduce the costs and staff time involved in providing information - with most reporting no change at all and one in five noting their costs have actually increased.
A key issue for local authorities highlighted by the report is the capacity of council officers and elected members to understand and deliver eGovernment, with almost three quarters identifying skills gaps, particularly in change management. Over half of councils report their officers lack the ability to evaluate or analyse the costs and benefits of eGovernment projects, and almost seven out of 10 councils said members do not appreciate how eGovernment contributes to their strategic objectives. Notably, almost one in five local authorities said a lack of leadership and drive from chief executives, members or senior officers was creating difficulties when trying to set up eGovernment partnerships. Furthermore, around half have found that incompatible IT systems can cause problems when trying to work with other organisations.
Key findings from the survey include:
- Only 20% of all councils present multi-lingual information via their e-enabled access channels, although the figure is higher for London Boroughs
- 37% of local authorities - representing 101 councils - do not have a corporate eGovernment strategy in addition to their Implementing Electronic Government (IEG) statement; a further 27% are developing one
- Virtually all authorities now have senior officer and elected member e-champions
- 21% are currently developing a dedicated, comprehensive training programme for eGovernment
- Almost three-quarters have procedures in place to measure improvements in internal efficiencies due to eGovernment
- 84% turn to external organisations for advice on procuring IT systems - most often from other local authorities or the private sector; a third seek advice from three or more different organisations
- 68% of councils consult other local authorities when drawing up eGovernment strategies or IEG statements
- Few local authorities do not provide access to an intranet for any of its officers and members
- London Boroughs tend to provide IT facilities to a higher proportion of their officers and members than all other types of authority
- 91% work in partnerships with other local authorities in relation to eGovernment; districts tend to form partnerships with their county councils - Most county councils and unitaries now have eGovernment partnerships with private technology suppliers
- Local authorities are divided over whether suppliers actually understand their requirements when procuring e-systems and services
- Around half are making efforts to involve local businesses in developing their eGovernment programme
- 57% state they are developing arrangements to monitor the impact of eGovernment on levels of public involvement; a third report an increase in public participation.
"Local authorities recognise the objectives and potential benefits of eGovernment, particularly in terms of service delivery, and understand the challenges that eGovernment presents", the report concludes. "They are however, cautious about making radical and costly changes. This coupled with current capacity constraints may explain why many local authorities seem to favour a piecemeal approach to the implementation of eGovernment and are making changes in a more ad-hoc and informal way."
Findings from the survey will feed into a detailed evaluation of eGovernment processes which is due to be published in the Autumn.
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