E-government needs tech-literate generation

Younger people are much keener to access government services online, so e-government success may not come in the short term, says new report

Public take-up of local government online services will remain low for at least the next 10 years, according to a new report.

The research, commissioned by marketing communication consultancy Portfolio Communications, found that just 7 percent of adults have contacted their local council online in the past year and that the figure is unlikely to increase significantly until today's tech-literate younger generation grows up.

The study, based on interviews with 1,000 adults representative of the entire UK population, revealed that over 40 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds would prefer to use the Web to access information from local government, compared to around 20 percent of 35 to 54 year-olds and just 10 percent of the over-55s.

The research concludes that the government could easily find itself having to justify large investments without any evidence of mass support for e-services in the short to medium-term.

In addition, considerable education will have to be carried out by local authorities to encourage take-up of e-government by their communities, particularly among older generations.

The government itself admitted last November that public usage of the services currently available online is low, and aims to add take-up targets to its oft-quoted aim of getting all public services online by 2005.

Mark Westaby, director of Portfolio, said: "Fast pay-back is a key driver of public sector services, but this research suggests that the trend towards use of online local government services is unlikely to increase dramatically until today's younger generation gets significantly older. Clearly, this is not going to happen for some considerable time, possibly a decade or longer. As a result it will be vital for government not only to ensure that online services are available, but also that local communities are educated about the benefits of using them and are fully incentivised to do so."

The Portfolio study revealed that the telephone currently dominates as the main method for contacting local councils, regardless of age, sex, region or social status, the only exception to these trends being the use of direct debit to pay council bills. This suggests that local and central government should embrace the concept of contact centres and other telephony-based services to meet the clear demand for use of the telephone across all ages, regions and demographics, according to the report

The research was carried out by ICM during November, 2002.

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