Socitm tells councils to step up website investment

Councils must adopt a new strategic approach to 'self service' during the economic crisis, according to Socitm, the public sector IT managers' organisation.

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Councils must adopt a new strategic approach to 'self service' during the economic crisis, according to Socitm, the public sector IT managers' organisation.

The web is already the most used channel for accessing council services, according to Socitm's eleventh annual survey of local authority websites.

But the current economic problems should be a call to action for those authorities that are yet to commit to self-service websites. Such sites are an easy to use, low-cost means to get council information at a time when resources are unlikely to increase, said the organisation.

The Better Connected 2009 report, published on today (2 March), sets out a blueprint for future website management to help local authorities.

The report found that between 12 percent and 31 percent of web enquiries end in failure, leading to what they term "costly ‘avoidable contacts’" being generated for other, more expensive-to-serve channels like the phone, the report found. This is against a background of significantly rising internet usage.

The report assesses and ranks council websites according to how well each site meets certain criteria, such as currency of information and search engine use. Only eight websites achieved the full excellent (E ) ranking for both content and usability. The E sites are: Allerdale BC, Barking & Dagenham, Bristol City, East Sussex, North East Derbyshire, Salford City, South Tyneside and Surrey.

A further 18 sites failed ‘E’ status by just one factor, with 11 of these authorities missing out on accessibility critieria.

Another 28 transactional sites achieved a rating of excellent content against the four essential criteria but not usability, and six rated excellent for usability but not content.

Overall the survey shows 2 percent of council sites are 'Excellent', 43 percent are ‘Transactional’ and 55 percent of websites are ‘Standard’. This is a marginal improvement on last year, which found only one in three sites offered transactional services.

Commenting on the findings, Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight and author of the report, said: "Given the current economic crisis, the time has surely come for major investment in self-service, but in the knowledge that, if the online services does not work, an ‘avoidable contact’ will have been created."