Scandinavian countries take e-government lead

The UK is unlikely to meet its e-government targets, according to IDC, which finds Denmark, Sweden and Finland ahead of the pack in getting the public sector online

Few European countries will be able to meet the region-wide goal of getting all government services online by 2005, according to a study by IDC released this week, which projected that e-government spending will nearly double in the next five years.

Despite much rhetoric on the subject in the UK, the country is not faring particularly well compared with its neighbours, the study found. Denmark was best prepared for e-government both in the ability of the government to deliver services online and in the public's willingness to use them. Sweden and Finland were also well-prepared, according to European eGovernment Services, Country Benchmarking and Market Forecast, 2002 – 2007, published on Monday.

E-government spending across Western Europe will rise from $2.9bn (£1.64bn) in 2002 to $5.8bn in 2007, IDC said. 2002's figures accounted for 16 percent of all public-sector spending on IT services.

While countries are unlikely to meet the EU's eEurope Action Plan objective of having all services online by 2005, "e-government has definitely become a key component of government modernization strategies," said Marianne Kolding, director of IDC's European Services research, in a statement.

She said that governments are taking other actions aside from creating e-services, such as modernising and integrating back office functions, closing the digital divide and encouraging citizens to use services, investments which will ensure e-government's success after 2005.

Switzerland is lagging behind other European countries in its e-government sophistication because of the country's decentralised public sector, IDC said, while Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal have relatively successful programmes in place, and France is spending the most on e-government in absolute terms.

While the target to provide e-government services for all who want them by 2005 was broadly welcomed at the UK's first e-Summit in November -- an event in London that brought together an international group of government and industry policy-makers -- some argued that more must be done.

Speaking at the e-Summit, prime minister Tony Blair acknowledged the problems. "Fifty-four percent of government services are already online," said Blair, "but we recognise that British companies and citizens are still not using those services."

ZDNet UK's Matt Loney contributed to this report.