The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 December 2004



(2004), "UK", The Electronic Library, Vol. 22 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited



Government category list, local government category list and seamless UK taxonomy to merge

Much of the essential information which people need in their daily lives is produced by public sector bodies such as the Health Service or Local Authorities. The Cabinet Office e-Government Unit, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and seamless UK have announced that they are working together to merge the three lists which are used by national and local government plus other public sector bodies to index and categorize their information.

The e-Government Metadata Standard sets out the way in which organizations should apply metadata to describe their information resources. One element relates to the subject of the resource and until now organizations have been able to use any of the three term lists as source files for subject terms, which has led to confusion and difficulties in finding information.

Now, however, the list owners have agreed to work together to create a single unified list of categories and keywords that the public sector can use to describe their information resources. This standardization should result in information resources being described more consistently across organizations, which should in turn make it easier for organizations to share information and for user searches to be more effective.

The work, which is funded by the new Local e-Government Standards Body, will be carried out by an independent taxonomy expert, Stella Dextre Clarke, and is expected to be completed by the Spring. Until then, the ODPM have stressed that organizations should continue to use any of the lists. Involvement of existing users of the three lists will be a key part of the process and more details of the consultation process will be issued shortly.

Public usage of reaches record levels

The promotion of e-Planning features strongly in the new e-Planning Standards issued by the PARSOL national project. Take-up of e-services is now a major issue on the lips of civil servants in Whitehall especially as the 2005 deadline approaches.

One success story is UKPlanning. UKPlanning is hosted and managed on behalf of 20 councils up and down the country from Aberdeenshire to Kent. It is also the jumping off point for over 20 other councils where IDOX has implemented online planning registers. recorded a record number of unique visitors in July 2004. From its inception in 2002 the “unique visitor” figure has grown to 10,000 per month. “This is an outstanding figure and shows that council services on the web can attract the public, especially if the information is worthwhile”, says Michelle Lacey, Marketing Manager at IDOX.

UKPlanning enables anyone to search the public planning registers of local authorities and view all associated documentation including drawings, application forms and consultee comments free of charge. People only need to register to submit a comment on an application or submit an electronic application. The number of comments submitted online has also significantly increased – The London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames received 77 comments online for the month of July.

Research has shown that being able to view planning application documentation online is one of the most preferred services by the public. In addition to benefits for the public, there are also benefits for the Council in managing the large volume of enquiries at Reception. Staff are now freed up to focus on face-to-face enquiries where there is a genuine need.

Hart District Council hosted 306 public views of just one application online in July – 04/01380/MAJOR. And while this is a major application, another outline application in June 2004 was looked at 221 times.

Blind computer engineers develop “instant” talking newspapers

Two blind computer engineers, Neil McLachlan and Professor Isaac Porat, have developed programs that can convert a daily newspaper into an electronic format accessible by a blind or partially-sighted person, and email it to the end user within six minutes.

The system, now in use by the National Talking Newspaper and Magazine Service, a Sussex-based charity, interrogates news sources to extract their electronic editions. It strips the content of pictures and graphics, indexes the text, converts it into an accessible format and then places it on the charity’s server from where it can be emailed to subscribers. Recipients open the files via a screen reader and a text magnifier, synthetic voice or Brailler.

Tim McDonald, Chief Executive of the Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (TNAUK), said: “This development crosses global boundaries. It means a visually-impaired person just about anywhere in the world can now receive his or her paper at the same time – or even before – a sighted reader in this country obtains a printed copy from the newsagent”.

He paid tribute to the engineers, both trustees of the Association, who volunteered their skills and services free of charge. “Without such dedication and generosity, the electronic operation of National Talking Newspapers and Magazines simply would not exist. A small charity like ours could not have afforded the costs if this research and development had been undertaken commercially”, Mr McDonald added.

The Talking Newspaper Association of UK is the membership association for many of the UKs 550 Talking Newspaper groups which provide local newspaper services for the blind and visually impaired. TNAUK also operates The National Talking Newspaper and Magazine Service, providing national and local newspapers, and magazines in a variety of recorded formats, to some 250,000 subscribers nationally each week. 2004 marks the 30th anniversary of TNAUK’s formation and the twenty-first anniversary of the start of National Service. Its Honorary President is Sir Trevor McDonald, the newscaster.

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