E-government is now a permanent agenda item of local councils in European cities, a survey compiled by Deloitte and the Eurocities Knowledge Society Forum reveals.
Some 80pc of participating cities have developed an e-government policy, including the delivery of services electronically.
The survey, which was unveiled at a major Eurocities conference in Tallinn, Estonia, investigated the status of e-citizenship and e-government within European cities focusing on four key challenges: re-engineering of local public administration; e-learning and inclusion; e-security and e-democracy; and community building. A total of 102 European cities from 23 European countries, including 18 cities in new EU member states, participated in the survey.
According to the survey, cities recognise the need to focus on cost reduction and efficiency, by analysing the real needs of citizens and businesses and computerising simple and frequently used services.
The survey shows the demands of citizens and businesses represent the most important drivers for improvement of electronic services. The increasing focus of cities on the demands of their citizens demonstrates that cities are adopting a more ‘outside-in’ approach to e-government, as opposed to focusing on issues such as cost reduction and responding to legislative requirements only.
In 2003, primary reasons for implementing e-government were cost reduction and responding to legislation. E-government now finds itself increasingly on the agenda of local councils. Most cities have programmes, projects or taskforces defined or in place, and some had even created specific senior positions for e-government. The current focus of cities is to meet demands of citizens and businesses, with 79pc of survey participants citing this as their most important driver of change.
Respondents to the survey believe that e-government could reduce external (user) costs by simplifying complicated procedures, typically involving the business community, such as licence and planning applications and tax reporting.
Following the satisfaction of the demands of citizens and businesses, the streamlining of internal processes (61pc), the increase of productivity (59pc), the improvement of performance (59pc) and cost reduction (50pc) are seen as the most important drivers of change.
Outsourcing did not appear to be popular among participants, despite some of their stated objectives. Cities outsourcing e-services or considering outsourcing them were mostly those respondents whose services were at an advanced level.
On the topic of re-engineering local public administration, the survey showed that the implementation of e-government was being driven by citizens’ demands, internal efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. The response to citizens’ demands is a positive shift. It indicates that cities are adopting a more responsive ‘outside-in’ approach towards e-government.
Lifelong learning remained a political issue, the survey found. In most respondent cities (70pc) this was a topic on the political agenda with involvement from a wide constituency of interested and motivated parties.
Different approaches have been adopted with a third of cities having a written e-learning strategy, a large number of strategies addressing specific target groups and having a dedicated organisation and resource for e-learning. The initiatives to provide life-long learning opportunities concentrated more on promoting e-learning (67pc) than providing it in the homes (37pc) or to the community (50pc).
Analysis of the e-security survey data indicates certain security precautions are in place with 88pc of participants deploying antivirus software and in excess of 70pc using firewalls.
More than 90pc of respondents were in agreement with elected representatives being contactable by email; citizens receiving electronic communications on policy matters and elected representatives to modernise their working practices.
However, 57pc of participants didn’t expect online consultation to raise public expectations and could lead to frustration. Some 43pc had no view on whether all European citizens should be able to vote online and 53pc suggested that elected representatives couldn’t cope with the number of emails they receive.
Chris Newby, a Liverpool councilor and chairman of the Eurocities Knowledge Society Forum, commented: The [eCitizenship for All] survey is a clear example of the unprecedented efforts that cities are undertaking to achieve good governance within the context of public sector modernisation.
“The survey shows that e-citizenship is becoming a meaningful agent of transformation embedded in the culture of the public sector. Its potential goes far beyond early achievements.”
By John Kennedy