UK struggles with e-gov ignorance

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Setting up government Web sites for citizen transactions does little good unless the public uses them, a U.K. e-government official said today.

Almost all of the UK's 400 local governments will provide electronic services by the end of this year, said Julian Bowrey, divisional and programme manager of local e-government in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Bowrey was a panel member at FCW Events’ Web-Enabled Government Conference in Washington, D.C.

Although a digital divide exists between those who have access to computers and those who do not, e-government usage is low even among those who have access. "The first thing we do when we get access to a computer is go shopping," Bowrey said. "Very few of us do e-government."

To increase usage, the central government’s Web portal should link to local government Web sites, Bowrey said. The U.K. equivalent of FirstGov.gov is Directgov, but its content is mainly limited to policy statements, he added. Users searching for information on special education in schools, for example, would be more interested in information about local schools and how to contact local officials, Bowrey said.

But building the services will not guarantee an increase in Web traffic. Surveys show that interest in e-government is far higher than actual usage. More people don’t use available services "because they’re not aware of them," Bowrey said.

A U.K. marketing campaign should target two segments of the populace most likely to start using e-services, Bowrey said. One is "grumpy young men who want to pay their parking fines online and want to complain, preferably at 3 in the morning," he said. The other is women with an interest in local community services, he added.

The United Kingdom also must overcome the public perception that local authorities are unresponsive and accessible only during banker’s hours, he said. The "view among some people is 'Well, local government just doesn't do this stuff. It's all 19th century,'" he said.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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