Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Political Pros and Cons of E-Government

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Political Pros and Cons of E-Government

Article excerpt

William Heath, the chairman and founder of Kable, the e-government publishing and research firm, questions the readiness of public services for all things "e"

Perhaps we should pay a bit more attention when a Derby pensioner receives eight identical council tax bills and, the same week, Liverpool Council finds that the resident it is pursuing for arrears is six years old, as recently happened. Bizarre and tragicomic as computerised government is, it's time to take it very seriously.

Not for nothing is e-government enjoying an unprecedented level of political commitment. The benefits it will bring are personally endorsed and repeated by Europe's heads of government.

The essential benefits that Ian McCartney and his official director of e-government, Anne Steward, seek to deliver are better and more convenient "24/7" public services, more accurately targeted and with less administrative cost. It's not hard to see plenty of votes in modern, cost-effective, customised and flexible public services. However, on closer inspection, the task looks more complicated.

First, it's not clear what services people want. Even if we ask the Cabinet Office's 5,000-strong People's Panel whether they want to pay council tax via WAP phones or apply for fishing licences from supermarket kiosks, it's hard to get an answer, because people react unpredictably to new services and media.

And the government can't seize the sort of cost advantages of, for example, a start-up internet bank. …

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