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Treasury slashes local e-gov budget

Little cash, but 'fireworks' imminent

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Central funding for local eGovernment will be cut from £150m to just £7m as of next year, a senior official has disclosed.

Julian Bowrey, divisional manager for local eGovernment at the Office of the deputy prime minister, signalled that while the e-service programme was now entering its "twilight", major developments are still in store,

Mr Bowrey told a conference of council e-champions to expect "some fireworks" on the local eGovernment front, which he hoped ministers would announce in the next few months.

Hinting at what lay ahead, he confirmed the Government is preparing some "significant" marketing campaigns to promote its online services to the public and increase their take-up.

A feasibility study has looked at whether the campaigns should be at national or regional level and who they need to target.

The message was that "government services are available online, are easy to use and make sense to use", delegates heard.

Besides take-up, Mr Bowrey said the next outstanding challenge to address was the "digital divide".

"The short-term solution", he went on, "is less about giving people PCs, but using e-enabled intermediaries."

Mr Bowrey's speech was something of a swansong, as delegates heard that he would be moving on once the local eGov programme officially ends post-2005. His local eGovernment division is to be turned into a branch of the department's ODPM's modernisation and efficiency division.

Reflecting on progress so far, he pulled out the intriguing statistic that 85 per cent of councils thought that eGovernment "has had a positive impact over the last five years"

He said that recent figures showed that 98 per cent of council services were e-enabled, adding: "I think there will be 24 authorities predicting they are under 90 per cent."

Important developments in the future will be the launch of Government Connect next month as well as the Local Directgov programme.

The latter, he said, will allow users of Directgov, the Government's citizen portal, to "tap in a postcode and go straight to the relevant form within a local authority website."

As for the Local e-Government National Projects programme, Mr Bowrey said that so far six of the 22 projects had been handed over a lead local authority; by the end of October, around half would be transferred to new owners, with plans to finish the task still "on course".

In an eyebrow-raising remark, he said that around a fifth or less of the 2,000 products developed by the £80m National Projects were "genuinely important, long-lasting things that we should continue".

He continued: "Most of them achieved what they needed to - to act as a catalyst for change in order to meet the 2005 targets. The National Projects were a means to an end."

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