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Britain's local authorities are slipping behind in making the government's 2005 deadline to put services online, with only 28 per cent of local authority services available on the Net.

That's according to Novell which reckons there's a skills crisis in local government - with nine in 10 authorities experiencing skills shortages in key areas. These concerns are backed up by a recent study commissioned by Web design outfit Interactive Bureau, London, which concluded the UK Government's Web sites are a shambles and in urgent need of an overhaul.

The Local Government Association has struck a three-year agreement with Novell which will give local councils access to a customised bundle of products that enables them to personalise online services, incorporate legacy information and create a secure environment for eGovernment. This will allow councils to deploy online government services for as little as £2 per citizen, Novell reckons.

Products and services covered by the agreement will be supplied by Novell's channel partners including ANS, ITM, Phoenix Software, SCC, Systems Group, Trustmarque and Telamon.

The deal is significant for Novell, which has placed considerable emphasis on getting business in the local government sector of late.

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead first local authority to deploy Novell Net services software under agreement, using Novell's software to offer online services to its 140,000 citizens from the start of next year.

Its signed up to the full suite of products covered by the deal e-work (a Business Process Management package from Novell Business Partner, Metastorm), eDirectory, DirXML (a bi-directional data sharing service), iChain (identity management), Novell Portal Services.

"The average cost of implementing an eGovernment project can run into millions of pounds. With just £200,000 from Whitehall to put services online, today's LGA agreement with Novell enables us to purchase the products we need at a very good price," said Keith Clark, Head of IT, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.

"Some of the services we will ultimately be able to provide include secure access to personal records such as council tax history, automated identification of callers for our new citizen call centre project, and a citizen's portal which will act as a local information resource and will allow people to sign up for selected email alerts about council activities." ®

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