Headshift pick up the growing meme that suggests that e-gov is a bad thing.

Some memes we need to battle:

£7.4bn – this number comes up all of the time, and contains a huge pile of assumptions, double counting and other errors. I don’t think there’s a meaningful number for what the “e-government programme” is costing (other than it’s probably higher than that one if you include people and process change and probably lower if you look solely at payments to vendors).

“Government doesn’t know what users want” – Untrue. The Directgov initiative (which is joined up with the e-gov initiatives discussed in the article) has done enormous amounts of user testing, focus grouping and research. But that doesn’t suit the tone of the article.

So lets leave the value aside, and concentrate on what’s being done. In the local e-government programme (which I’ve been lucky enough to work on for the last couple of years), the government has done a range of things: putting services online, stimulating public sector partnerships and collaboration (think Victoria Climbie), reducing the postcode lottery in local service provision, helping to join up local and central government. That’s just for starters, and the total budget for this chunk was £675m over five years. Suddenly it doesn’t look so large for what it has achieved across 388 councils in the UK (How would you feel if it read that the spend was £10 per person over five years or £1.7m per council over five years?).

In all these pieces it is safe to say that e-gov has been used as a transformation engine, not as the end itself. As is commonly quoted: if you put a crap service online, you just allow citizens to discover more rapidly that it’s a crap service. The point is this: the focus that e-gov and online service delivery forces on councils and departments is a useful one: it helps them deliver better service more efficiently. If the programmes finish and have delivered all government services online and only that, then they’ll have failed.

Next planning cycle the push will be for regional government and Gershon efficiencies, not e-gov, and they’ll probably cost the same amount or more to implement.

An addendum: Simon Caulkin (the author of the Observer article) quotes a Kable report as authoritative on this issue. Mr Caulkin wrote the report he quotes, yet doesn’t disclose this in the text of the article. Not my favourite form of journalism.

Another addendum: I don’t like the e-citizen enforced registration either. A public blog is a good idea. However, the problem of comment spam on high-profile blogs is a substantial one and may make this route difficult. Public forums, etc make sense as an alternative.