Just 22 percent of councils provided “excellent” coverage during public sector strikes, says survey
The majority of local authorities in the UK did not use their digital channels such as websites and social networks effectively enough to keep the public informed during the public sector strikes last week, according to a survey by The Society for IT professionals in the public sector (Socitm).
Two hundred and six London boroughs, unitaries and county councils were tested and it was found that just 22 percent provided excellent coverage, although this was significantly better NHS hospitals, which were subject to smaller but similar survey.
The survey was conducted on 30 November, the day of the strikes, and two days before to see whether there were prominent references to the industrial action on the council’s homepage and information about what services were affected, such as school closures and social care services.
Socitm tested to see whether a Google search led to useful information about service disruption and what updates that might be available through the website or social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter.
The quality of the information that was provided about what users of affected services should do during the strikes was also assessed, as was the suitability of the information.
Just 48 council websites (22 percent) were able to answer at least five of the six questions positively, while 18 percent offered no coverage at all. Nine English unitaries, two Scottish councils and one county council, Warwickshire, were cited as good examples while London boroughs, metropolitan districts and councils in Wales fared noticeably worse.
However all councils in Wales and all but one in Scotland did have some reference to the strikes, with the exception being Angus who declared the day, St Andrews Day, a public holiday.
Despite over half of UK adults currently using social networking sites, only 24 councils (12 percent) opted to relay information using this method. Public service have been encouraged to use social media to save money and improve services while improving their public image.
However the performance of councils compares favourably with the survey of 25 NHS hospitals carried out during the strike which revealed that hospitals which communicated with patients and visitors were the exception, rather than the rule.
“Given the high TV and press coverage anticipating the impact of the strike on users of public services, it would seem to be an obvious duty on all councils to have put in place means to communicate this effectively” says Martin Greenwood of Socitm Insight. “While the actual impact on many services may not have been clear until the day itself, some communication by every council to show how it would be managing the situation might have been expected.”
Earlier this year, Socitm and Cookie Reports joined forces to help local government websites comply with new EU cookie laws, but its 2011 Better Connected survey revealed that 22 percent of visits to council websites in 2010 ended in failure.