Council sites must improve

A Socitm survey of local authority Web sites found delays in replies to enquiries and a lack of information

A Socitm survey of local authority Web sites found delays in replies to enquiries and a lack of information

With price wars raging among Internet providers and the Government urging local authorities to do more business online, what is the state of local authority Web site provision, asks Mike Simons.

The Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm) has just published a report, Better Connected? A year 2000 snapshot of local authority Web sites, and it makes uncomfortable reading.

The survey looked at 420 local authority Web sites across the country over a period of 10 weeks. Of the 467 local authorities, 400 have Web sites. This represents a growth of 12% in the past year. Socitm classified these sites into four categories:

  • Promotional sites - 58%

  • Content sites - 34%

  • Content plus sites - 8%

  • Transactional sites - 0%

    Of the surveyed sites, 77 sites had moved up at least one category in the year since Socitm last carried out its Web site survey, however, there is a long way to go before even the best offer citizens a full range of information and services online.

    A key part of the survey was the ability of Web sites to answer questions citizens might need to ask in specific circumstances. The report found that, "Most local authority Web sites fall well short of being able to meet this assessment."

    Half the councils did not reply to an e-mail asking about disabled access to libraries and swimming pools. Only one-in-six replied within 24 hours and one took 21 days to reply.

    Socitm's testers also tried to find the sort of information a single parent living in council property might need, asking questions about housing benefit, the address of the nearest Citizens' Advice Bureau and JobCentre. About 30% of councils could not handle the enquiry and only 8% were satisfactory or better.

    Testers also posed as a multinational business looking for a new site. Of the councils 17% ignored this service and 36% did it satisfactorily or very well.

    Socitm warned local authorities they must "grasp the opportunities of electronic service delivery. The reason for this is not that Government policy requires it, but that the general public's expectations are increasing because the technology is driving organisations everywhere towards e-commerce."

    Key recommendations

    Local authority Web sites must:

  • Include a full set of contact information across the site

  • Include links to all other levels of Government

  • Move positively to more interactive transactions, but ensure they are adequately supported

  • Consider a range of requirements for disabled people

  • Better Connected?, published by the Society of Information Technology Management.

  • Know of any innovative public sector project? If so e-mail Mike Simons

  • Read more on Operating systems software