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Council websites win qualified thumbs up from Socitm



New Better Connected survey shows good results for accessibility and mobile use, but shortcomings in performance for some tasks

Local authority websites have received generally positive reviews for their performance on usability with mobile phones, accessibility, search functions and some specific tasks from public sector IT association Socitm.

It has published the full marks from its latest Better Connected survey, which covered all 418 local councils in the UK and took place between October and April.  

It involved testing a number of tasks – such as paying council tax, applying for a secondary school place, finding out and applying for housing – and features such as the sites’ navigation and usability with mobile phones. The Digital Accessibility Centre took responsible for the final set of tests on accessibility for people with physical and cognitive impairments.

Socitm said 59% of councils passed the accessibility test, compared with 43% last year and 26% in 2014, reflecting simpler, less cluttered designs.

The results on site search were generally positive, with 52% achieving top possible marks and 89% achieving a pass score. The reviewers were only unable to use the route in a handful of cases.

They also showed that 80% of councils now have websites purposed for mobile phones, a massive jump on the 26% recorded in the survey of two years ago. It also gives 68% a good or very good rating for user experience on smartphones.

Two-thirds (66%) of sites were rated as working well in their navigation, search and A-Z facilities, although 19% have now dropped the A-Z feature. The main reason cited was that the cost of maintaining it outweighs the benefits.

Performance swings

There were some wide variations in performance of specific tasks, from highs of 78% doing well in finding out opening times for council rubbish tips and applying for secondary school places, to lows of 34% for objecting to a planning application and 22% for registering a food business.

Poor performance in tasks was usually associated with poorly integrated third party software; clunky maps; circuitous or dead end customer journeys; unnecessary requirements to log in to access services; forms not purposed for mobile devices; over-wordy, officious or jargonistic content; and missing or out of date content.

Among the sites scoring four stars are a number that also achieved the top ranking last year, including Adur & Worthing Councils, Bristol, Calderdale, Dorset, East Riding of Yorkshire, Eden, Haringey, Kent, Rochdale, Sandwell, Staffordshire, Wandsworth and Warwick.

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