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The reality of egovernment.

Byline: Simon Newsam

WHAT have Tony Blair and Fidel Castro got in common?

Err... both ride roughshod over constitutional matters? Or both rule by autocracy while pretending to act democratically?

I'll leave these for others to debate because the real answer is far more interesting; neither has an email address.

It gets worse. You could complete the list with the names Robert Mugabe of strifetorn Zimbabwe, Colonel Gaddafi of terrorsponsoring Libya, General Than Shwe of Myanmar, where free expression is like signing a death warrant, and Kim Jong Il of nuclear sabrerattling North Korea.

These are the only world leaders who don't have a public email address.

There are some who'd jest that Tony is in good company but this isn't the real cause of the Prime Minister's embarrassment.

The true eggonface arises because Mr Blair has built himself up as the champion of egovernment.

Cynics point out that egovernment was an obvious choice as the Holy Grail of Mr Blair's policies because performance can't be compared with that of previous administrations. But that hasn't stopped critics rounding on them.

Poor websites, technology that doesn't deliver, security and lack of focus have all, in turn, been levelled at government departments.

Last February a report on egovernment across Europe for the European Commission by Cap Gemini Ernst and Young, found Ireland and Sweden offered the best online services, including ``full electronic case handling'' meaning that you can perform the whole process online.

For example, via your PC, you: submit you tax assessment, receive a review of it, argue that you've been robbed, reach a compromise, receive your bill, forget to pay it, receive a summons and pay the final demand just 30 minutes before the deadline to avoid having to appear in court which would involve that repulsive concept of having to leave your computer screen.

Unless you had a laptop and appropriate wifi kit, that is.

Tax assessment online is a bit of a thorny subject where the UK is concerned. One of the first highprofile cockups of the digital age was the farce of submitting tax returns online, which didn't work.

Egovernment can be broken down into four categories: incomegenerating (tax etc), registration (such as births, marriages and deaths), public services (libraries etc) and permits and licenses (planning permission etc).

But how many people do you know who go online to submit tax assessments, buy a TV licence, transfer car ownership, apply for planning permission to build an extension to their home?

It is with this in mind that the government is preparing its latest appeal to public attitudes by creating a onestop shop for all its eservices.

It is an eminently sensible and simple idea. Would you know where to go online for any of the services listed above? Probably not, but you can bet that in a year or two you'll know the one address you'll need for all of them.

It is worth noting too, as many digital media firms have done, that the government's Central Office of Information - the UK's second largest advertiser - is expecting to spend pounds 6.2m this year on online advertising of government services. That's an increase of pounds 2.2m on last year.

It all amounts to undeniable evidence that digital government is coming together, albeit more slowly than some would have wished and with plenty of hiccups on the way. And Tony Blair's Holy Grail could actually be reached during his time in office.

As the report for the European Commission pointed out, ``Further growth... requires a clear political vision and committed leadership.''

So Mr Blair, about this email address...
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 25, 2003
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