The latest European Commission survey looking at the progress Europe is making in providing online services to citizens and businesses has shown Ireland to be once again performing well on the European stage.
However, the study also showed that in nearly every country surveyed, public services for businesses scored significantly higher than those for citizens – and that this gap is widening.
It found that the greatest strides were made by online services for businesses.
The objective of the EC research, carried out by Cap Gemini, Ernst and Young is to provide a benchmark for European countries to share best practice.
Just over a year ago, in November 2001, the eEurope benchmarking process found that Ireland performed strongest of all member states in terms of online availability of 200 basic public services and this performance was repeated in April 2002.
However, the Eurobarometer survey carried out in June of 2002 suggested that the percentage of internet users actually visiting government websites is relatively low – at 35pc compared to an EU average of 49pc – ie the service is there, but we aren’t using it.
Responding to this week’s survey, European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said “E-government in Europe should now focus more closely on the transformation of government authorities into customer-oriented service providers.”
Vice-president of Cap Gemini, Ernst and Young, Stanislas Cozon said: “The results show that in the past year significant progress has been made by European governments in providing strong online service around income generation.” He added however that European governments now needed to focus more on other services particularly those most relevant to citizens – and overall ensure that they have the right approach to implementation.
The latest study used measurement criteria which covered the level of online interaction and the overall availability of public services online.
The survey found that for the 20 public services analysed across the 15 EU member states, plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, online sophistication has grown from 45pc to 60pc, with Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Finland showing progress beyond the level of two-way interaction.
Through four distinct levels of interaction going from simple online information to full electronic case handling, the sophistication of online services was measured and grouped in the following four areas:
1. Income generating: services where payment flows from citizens and businesses to the government (mainly taxes and social contributions)
2. Registration: services related to recording data as a result of administrative obligations (births, marriages, deaths)
3. Returns: services provided by government to citizens and businesses in return for taxes and contributions (for example public libraries)
4. Permits and licences: documents provided by governmental bodies giving permission to build a house, to run a business etc.
The survey found that, overall, income generating services are the most developed online and have shown the greatest progress throughout the life of the survey. Permits and licences however still required substantial improvement, the research found.
With an average score of 82pc the income generating cluster has the highest online sophistication, followed by resgistration and returns. The average growth rate of the income generating service cluster is 20pc points.
Analysis by country ranks Sweden on top at 26pc progress, followed by Belgium at 24pc and Denmark at 23pc. Sweden has the highest overall score at 87pc. Together with Sweden, three other countries, Ireland, Denmark and Finland score higher than 75pc, corresponding to the third maturity level of ‘two-way interaction’.
By Suzanne Byrne