Councils across the UK could save £500m with modest investment in their websites, according to public sector IT body Socitm.
Socitm has published its annual report on the usability of local government websites. While it found a slight improvement in the number of councils achieving a four-star rating (5% of councils), Socitm's report said council websites remain insufficiently focused on areas of most interest to users.
Martin Greenwood, programme manager at Socitm, said councils could save six-figure sums by improving their websites. With around 433 in the UK, this could mean up to £500m in savings.
“If it costs £3 per telephone interaction, then that can becomes pennies by doing it on the web instead. And if people knew they could interact on the web, lots would. All that requires is a decent website, which would not cost a massive amount.”
Mike Bracken, director of digital at Government Digital Services, who is heading the government’s digital by default agenda, said in the foreword to Socitm's Better Connected report: “We all need to work to improve the quality of the service the citizen gets from government, whatever level that may be, not least because we will all be judged by the standard of the weakest service encountered.
"There are simple changes and corrections that can be made; many of them are set out in this report.”
The report said problems arise from deficiencies in the governance and management of websites. Web teams are unable to focus on the primary goal to provide quick and easy access to the most popular services, it said.
This is inhibiting the ability of councils to deliver savings and efficiencies associated with channel shift, and to meet customers’ growing expectations of what service delivery online should be like.
Council management must also accept that the primary purpose of the website is to deliver services, not news about the council and its activities, said the report.
Site navigation was found to be a major weakness on websites, with just 13% of councils achieving the standard in this area. Only 10% met ease of access standards for access via smartphones.
The report found 37% of councils with an answerphone message for out-of-hours calls are still failing to refer callers to the website, indicating significant lack of corporate commitment to self-service.