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European countries have made progress in on-line public services, especially for business, but researchers say more buy-in is needed at the highest levels.

The third survey of electronic public services in Europe, conducted by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young on behalf of the European Commission, examined the progress made between October 2001 and October 2002. Researchers found that Ireland and Sweden are now offering the most sophisticated services on-line, including transactional services that allow full electronic case handling. Overall the on-line sophistication of public services has grown from 45 percent to 60 percent in one year.

Researchers analysed 10,500 individual public service providers across 18 countries and found that 86 percent of these are on-line, an increase of 12 percent in one year. On-line services fall into four general categories: income-generating services for items like taxes and social contributions; registration services, related to recording data for events like births, deaths, marriages; public services funded through taxation (such as public libraries); and permits and licences, granted by public bodies to allow the construction of a house, establishment of a business and so on.

Income-generating services have become the most developed on-line across Europe, but researchers said that substantial improvement is needed in the area of permits and licences.

A worrying gap is also growing between on-line services aimed at businesses and those aimed at citizens. In nearly every country surveyed, the sophistication of the services for business is greater than that of services for citizens, and the number of business services available on-line grew 19 percent during the year, compared to just 12 percent growth for citizen services.

"Further growth beyond the stage of interactivity requires a clear political vision and committed leadership to e-government as an integral part of a national governmental change programme," the researchers concluded in the report, noting also that a greater emphasis on the citizen was also required.

The goal is not just to make services available on-line, but to accomplish a more fundamental shift toward government that is focussed on citizens and organised according to their needs, rather than bound by traditional ways of working.

"E-government in Europe should now focus more closely on the transformation of government authorities into customer-oriented service providers," said European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, commenting on the report.

© ENN

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