What I really, really wantfrom my.government.com

We pay taxes and should getservices appropriate to the lifestyles we lead
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The Independent Online

SOMETIMES I wish I'd been born a few hundredyears ago, before our everyday lives became a tedious chain of actionsfocused on overcoming government bureaucracy.

SOMETIMES I wish I'd been born a few hundredyears ago, before our everyday lives became a tedious chain of actionsfocused on overcoming government bureaucracy.

Life at the dawn of the 21stcentury seems to be complex, fraught with danger and overflowing with dailyrisks that are becoming increasingly unmanageable. I've had a spell ofreally bad luck recently, starting with the value of my house halving when aneighbour put up an extension that blocked the sunlight on my side. Idon't spend much time at home, and so missed the opportunity to challengehis planning application.

However, even if I had been at home there isno way that I'd have had time to hang out at the local council offices toobject to his applications, by attending a meeting in the middle of theworking day.

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

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

The really irritating thing is that I couldhave avoided all these problems if only my use of the Web extended to readinggovernment publications. It transpired that my council in fact has a prettygood online information and planning application download. I could havesimply blasted away my neighbour's idea of an extension by sending a proteste-mail and a form back to the council planning department.

To makematters worse, someone sent me a full briefing document published online afew 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 survivedthe parking-regulation change without problems.

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

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

What I really want from thee-tsar that Tony Blair has now appointed is help to manage my daily life byproviding me with the relevant information at the right time. What seems tobe missing from the online government puzzle is some warm thought about the poorindividual, drowning in the complexities of everyday life but lacking time toinvestigate issues in a proactive manner, and not knowing the structure ofgovernmental websites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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