Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 97) (HC 721), on Local Government On-Line Funding to Local Authorities

[back to previous text]

Mr. Allan: I should like to clarify whether the intention is that local authorities will meet their targets because there could be an e-election in 2005, although there will not be. I understand that a general election in 2005 or 2006 would not be an e-election; that has been ruled out. However, the target will have been met and the Government could have an e-election then if they wanted to. It is just that they do not want to; they want to do it at a later date.

Dr. Whitehead: The situation is more basic than that. By 2005 and 2006, local authorities will be e-enabled. We will then be able to provide the technology for an e-election, based on pilots and so on. However, it is essential that a general election based on that technology is set up correctly. Going into an e-election as soon as is technically possible might not be the wisest way to move forward. We must ensure that the system works well. For all the reasons mentioned this morning, that is an important point. We must also remember that the 2005 target extends to 31 December 2005.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North invited me to engage in the Sharon test. I thought that he was going to start talking about the middle east, but he did not. He is right that the Sharon test is crucial for e-governance. E-government is not just about the 30 or 40 per cent. of the population who are arguably familiar with the net, e-mails and other things. It is about those who not only are not yet familiar with them but are unlikely ever to be as

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familiar as the cutting-edge people think that they will be. It is important that that fact is understood, and that services do not simply leap ahead, assuming that there is a happy land in sight, where that 30 to 40 per cent. live, and an unhappy land where the rest of the population live.

As hon. Members mentioned, it is also important to remember that we do not yet entirely know how the take-up of some of the e-enabled services will develop; it does not always go the way that one expects. Teenagers up and down the country are spending enormous amounts of money on their pay-as-you-go mobile phones, sending e-mails at 10p a time. Not only are they spending money on e-mailsóno one thought that that would happenóbut they do not realise that that is what they are sending.

Similarly, every time someone gets money out of a hole in the wall, they are using a computer, although they may not realise that. As part of the process of e-enabling local government and governance, one must think all the time about user-friendly methods, access, take-up and how people will react to the services. Migrations to different ways of working should be made on the basis of the common sense of the system. That is better than using a forbidding system that excludes large parts of the population. If the voting pilots and e-government support, both of which are represented in the special grant report, allow those changes to happen, we will have done a good job this morning.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 97) (HC 721), on Local Government On-Line Funding to Local Authorities.

Committee rose at five minutes to Twelve o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Allan, Mr.
Allen, Mr.
Dhanda, Mr.
Dobson, Mr.
Dowd, Jim
Gerrard, Mr.
Gilroy, Linda
Moss, Mr.
Rosindell, Mr.
Taylor, Mr. John
Whitehead, Dr.
Woolas, Mr.

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