A new survey has placed Ireland fourth out of 28 European countries for the sophistication of public services available to citizens online. However, Ireland’s rating for online availability has fallen and the country is now firmly in the middle ranking.
Sweden, Austria and the UK occupied the places above Ireland according to the fifth annual report on the supply of electronic public services across Europe, which was produced by Capgemini on behalf of the European Commission.
Ireland was one of seven countries — Sweden, Austria, UK, Ireland, Finland, Norway and Denmark – that scored higher than 80pc in providing public services electronically, the report found. Sweden was the most advanced country in this respect with a score of 89pc.
Ireland’s progress has slipped back in comparison with previous years. In last year’s report Ireland was ranked third in terms of online sophistication and fifth in terms of online availability. The latter category has seen the biggest slippage as Ireland is now 12th on the list in terms of online availability – that is, citizen access to the internet.
Regarding specific online e-government services, Ireland scored third in car registration, enrolment in higher education and attaining environment-related permits online out of the 28 countries bench marked.
Ireland scored fourth in attaining a driver’s licence online and for social security benefits such as child allowances. Other areas where Ireland fell down include health-related services and public libraries with a ranking of 23rd and 16th respectively. Ireland was rated 12th for a group of online services including income taxes, Vat, job search services and attaining birth/marriage certificates.
Measured against previous years, Ireland’s initial progress has matured and now stands relatively still compared to other countries. In the 2003 report Ireland and Sweden showed the highest level of online sophistication. In 2002 only Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Finland showed progress towards two-way interaction, whereas currently almost all the countries measured have improved the average level of online sophistication of their public services beyond one-way interaction, from the government to the users, towards two-way interaction in both directions.
Nick Forbes, managing director of Capgemini in Ireland, said that the challenge for Ireland now is to move beyond the easy part of making services available online to delivering real value from e-government. He called for three elements: clarity in deciding what services to deliver through which channel; the Public Services Broker to be delivered; and the continuation of funding for the information society.
In conducting the survey, Capgemini examined 14,000 websites across the 25 EU member states as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The survey method is based on a defined index of sophistication of services ranging from simple online information to fully interactive services including online payments and, where appropriate, online service delivery. The report found that more than 90pc of public service providers now have an online presence and 48pc of basic public services are fully interactive.
The countries found to have made the biggest advances in the past year were: Iceland (+20pc), Germany (+15pc), Italy (+13pc), the UK (+13pc) and Belgium (+9pc). The study suggests that growth in online sophistication, such as fully interactive services, will level off in the coming years. Further progress will require greater connection between civil services’ front and back offices, increased collaboration and cultural and process change.
The 10 accession countries that joined the EU last May still score largely in the lower half of the ranking for availability and interactivity, the report found. However, their development of e-government services is now at the level the other 15 member states occupied just two years ago, indicating rapid progress.
Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said: “This study points to impressive progress in developing and delivering public services online across the EU. The service delivery gap between new member states and the pre-enlargement EU 15 is lower than many expected and could close very quickly.”
By Gordon Smith