Socitm says many council websites are underperforming, while Eric Pickles hits out at Nottingham rebels
Local authorities have been hit with criticism from two directions. The Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm) has lambasted its members’ employers for failing to deliver public services effectively and, in a more focused attack, local government secretary Eric Pickles has accused Nottingham City Council of treating its citizens with contempt.
The annual Socitm Better Connected survey found that 22 percent of visits to council websites during 2010 ended in complete failure, despite the organisation noting a 13 percent increase in usage of council websites during 2010.
Failure to recognise digital benefits
Although nine councils, representing two percent of all UK council sites, achieved a maximum four-star rating, over two-thirds failed to achieve more than two stars. This led Socitm to accuse the public sector of failing to recognise that digital delivery is faster, more convenient and cheaper for the public.
“At a time when government is seeking to make online access to public services the default channel, it is more important than ever that the needs of consumers be placed at the heart of this process. That means starting from what works for consumers, rather than what works for providers,” wrote Christine Farnish, chair of Consumer Focus for Socitm, in the report:
The report is not totally critical of council site performances and notes that there has been an overall “modest” improvement over the past year, following a year of stagnation in 2009. The conclusion was based on standards set by Socitm across twelve criteria for usefulness and usability .
Levels of visitor satisfaction had actually risen by seven percent, reversing a gradual decline noted in recent years.
Services, not technology
The report advises that every council should evaluate their website performance and focus on managing customer access, conventrate on performance improvements for “top tasks”, and encourage adoption of smartphones by staff and make the sites more accessible to their customers with mobile devices.
“The web is no longer about technology. It is about delivering lower cost services designed around the user,” said Socitm president Jos Creese. “Any public service organisation, therefore, which is not fully integrating the potential of web delivery in financial and customer service strategies, is likely to be under-performing in both areas.”
The rebels in Nottingham City Council have upset Eric Pickles by arguing that committing resources to publishing its public spending is a “distraction” from dealing with the large funding cut it faces.
As the only council to defy central government, Nottingham has placed itself in the firing line. An angry Pickles said, “It is the only council in the country to treat its electorate with such contempt.”
He accused the council of being “frightened of transparency” to which Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood enquired if he would rather meet with a bus-full of people from Nottingham to discuss the “devastating cuts”, in light of his transparency demands. Pickles declined the offer.