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'Local' takes on a new meaning on the Web

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It is easy to imagine Internet applications that would make a difference to local government services.

Examples include making bill-paying and information services available on the Web, as well as opportunities such as searching the local library catalogue, booking a court at a local leisure centre or having a look at the latest planning applications.

Meanwhile, the political flow is away from local toward central control. Local government's influence over its biggest budget item, education, was cut in recent years with the Local Management of Schools initiative, and more central funding direct to schools is in the pipeline. Care of the elderly will move to the NHS. More payments are expected through the Benefits Agency.

And so on. These are not privatisations, as with buses, but changes that shift public sector control toward the centre.

As a nation we are ambivalent about local government services. The logic of local responsiveness makes sense, but delivery is often disappointing. Central government, keen to be seen to be delivering better public services, finds taking over more expedient than changing local government culture - not to mention reducing the influence of local government areas run by opposition parties.

Where is the Web in this? It is just a small but potentially growing enabler.

The easy wins are in delivering services to us personally - as local as you can get - giving the impression of localised government. It is of course only one way.Central government has not the capacity to listen to all our voices, hence the pressure to form lobbying groups such as the CIC. For there to be more than the five-yearly vote or occasional mass lobby or referendum, government needs to reinvent itself from the bottom up. The Web provides a relatively cheap and flexible medium for new models and experimentation. Maybe pressure on local government is getting to the critical point where it will dare to try.

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