Councils are failing to improve the usability or effectiveness of their websites when redesigning them, according to public service IT watchdog Socitm.
In a new survey, Socitm has found that around half of the local authority websites that were redesigned last year did not become more effective as a result.
Socitm assessed the “effectiveness” of the 63 public facing council websites which were redesigned in 2014. It looked at the ease of customer journeys and how easy it was to complete “top tasks”. In total they looked at all 407 UK council websites but not all of these were new.
Of the 63 new sites, 42 per cent of them were found to have remained only as effective as they were before the redesign. The rest were nearly equally split between improving (31 per cent) or deteriorating 27 (per cent).
Socitim’s Better Connected 2015 survey provides a four-star ranking for each site based on a survey of 317 criteria, which are assessed by a Socitim team. In addition there is help from third parties such as the Digital Accessibility Centre, which looks at accessibility.
According to a Socitim spokeswoman the survey is conducted by “a team of 11 experts in local authority websites”.
Socitim’s “top task” criteria are defined as things like reporting a street light failure, applying for a council tax reduction and finding out how to report a death.
Socitim says: “Achieving the standard for a top task indicates that the website has been successful in enabling visitors to find and complete the task.”
The biggest drop in effectiveness was the 11 per cent of new sites which fell from two stars to one star, while 8 per cent of sites fell from three stars to one star.
Socitim did find some sites that improved dramatically. The City of Cardiff made the greatest improvement, jumping from one star to four, and a further five councils: Angus; Falkirk; Melton BC; Wellingborough BC; and West Lothian have moved from one star to three stars.
The Socitim spokeswoman stresses that “The sites have not been judged on how they look, but by how effective they are”.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association says that websites are “an important way in which residents communicate and carry out business with their councils, like paying bills and booking a bulky waste collection.”
He added that as not all residents have online access it is important that councils offer a multi-channel approach.
Many councils have “improved their online offerings” particularly by developing apps and are “working to improve their websites”, the spokesman adds.
However, he says: “In the face of 40 per cent cuts to their budgets during this Parliament, councils are having to make difficult decisions about how they spend their resources.”