Network: What I would really like from my.government.com

We pay taxes and should get services appropriate to the lifestyles we lead
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SOMETIMES I wish I'd been born a few hundred years ago, before our everyday lives became a tedious chain of actions focused on overcoming government bureaucracy.

Life at the dawn of the 21st century seems to be complex, fraught with danger and overflowing with daily risks that are becoming increasingly unmanageable. I've had a spell of really bad luck recently, starting with the value of my house halving when a neighbour put up an extension that blocked the sunlight on my side. I don't spend much time at home, and so missed the opportunity to challenge his planning application.

However, even if I had been at home there is no way that I'd have had time to hang out at the local council offices to object to his applications, by attending a meeting in the middle of the working day.

Then, a few weeks later, my street became a Red Route, which means I can't even park my car for a moment to unload shopping or it will be towed away.

Finally, I missed out on a major governmental funding initiative for staff training in my area of business. I could have "upskilled" at least 10 people on the scheme, if only I'd read the tiny announcement that appeared in some obscure government publication a few months ago.

The really irritating thing is that I could have avoided all these problems if only my use of the Web extended to reading government publications. It transpired that my council in fact has a pretty good online information and planning application download. I could have simply blasted away my neighbour's idea of an extension by sending a protest e-mail and a form back to the council planning department.

To make matters worse, someone sent me a full briefing document published online a few months ago that specifies the exact plan of Red Routes in south London, including the details for my street. I could have made my escape and survived the parking-regulation change without problems.

As for the staff-training scheme I missed out on, all new government- funding initiatives are published by the DTI website, but it takes a superhero of a librarian to find them.

So it seems to me that Tony Blair's calls for more electronic government are on target, but only up to a point. There is little gain in getting local and central government departments to publish their information online every day if there is no intelligent way for individuals to benefit from all that information.

What I really want from the e-tsar that Tony Blair has now appointed is help to manage my daily life by providing me with the relevant information at the right time. What seems to be missing from the online government puzzle is some warm thought about the poor individual, drowning in the complexities of everyday life but lacking time to investigate issues in a proactive manner, and not knowing the structure of governmental websites.

My dream scenario would not necessarily be to have more government publications online, but to deliver a method of organising the information so that it gets to me when I need it, and only then. That would mean I could get on with my life without worrying that something heavy is going to hit me just because I have missed a few government documents here and there.

A combination of mygovernment.net with upmystreet.com is what would work for me, in the form of a smart, personalised portal that would ask me for my post code and areas of interest and alert me twice weekly about all documents issued by the Government that might be helpful in avoiding any flak coming my way.

Ideally, the e-commerce facility would be there so if I needed to buy any of the reports, I could press the button and buy it online. At present, only 1 per cent of government sites have e-commerce facilities.

I should also like to be able to download all the necessary forms, but, again, only 11 per cent of government sites bother to provide me with this time-saving device. On roughly one in 10 sites I can at least request a form by e-mail (particularly good are the local council websites). I'd also like to comment on government proposals, put in my 10p-worth on budget debates (at least local), and provide my feedback on the local schools and rubbish collection system; but alas, only 2 per cent of government websites have online discussion facilities. So having an online dialogue with government is still a long way away.

Those elements are important, but not as desperately needed as a way of locating the mines of useful information that are already available online.

We pay taxes and should get services appropriate to the lifestyles we lead, and the fundamental issue for the 21st century will be lack of time and the problems of living in a complex, fast-changing, highly regulated world. If the Government wants to provide real value for money and help me to survive the jungle of new regulations, new laws and traps set for us by the EU, it must start personalising the available information and setting up a proactive information service. It is the least we should expect from the New Media Age Government that Tony Blair has been promoting.

eva@never.com

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