Better connected 2004 shows much improvement in local authority web sites but highlights the size of the e-government task to be achieved by end 2005

  • ‘transactional’ sites up to twenty-three
  • transactions offered up by more than 46% compared with 2002
  • one third of sites have moved up a rank in the Better connected four rank system
  • a user survey of nine sample local authority sites shows that 83% were likely to make the website their first port of call if looking for similar information in future
  • performance in the ODPM’s proposed 14 priority service areas is ‘patchy’ and some proposed ‘mandatory outcomes’ look certain not to be achieved by end 2005
  • report includes findings in nine new topics including use of forms, search engines, and compliance with level A WAI accessibility standard

The size of the e-government task to be achieved by end 2005 has been highlighted in Better connected 2004, the annual report on local authority web sites now in its 6 th year and published by the Society of IT Management.

The Better connected survey provides a definitive snapshot of local government performance on the web. Every UK local authority website is reviewed and assessed against relevant e-government and good practice criteria and then ranked as - in descending order of desirability – a transactional, content plus, content, or promotional site.

This year’s results show that one third of sites have moved up a rank in status, that 23 sites are now transactional (up from ten in 2003), and that there has been an increase of 46% in the number of self-service ‘transactions’ (eg paying council tax or reporting a faulty street light) available through local authority web sites since 2002.

However, when the detailed survey findings are mapped against the mandatory outcomes in 14 priority service areas proposed by the ODPM in its recent consultation paper Defining E-government priority services and transformation outcomes in 2005 for local authorities in England , the results indicate the size of the e-government task local authorities are facing.

While the survey does show evidence of steady progress that, if maintained, should ensure local authorities achieve mandatory outcomes in some areas, like online library renewals (60% already), other services, such as booking sports facilities, have barely started - just 12 instances were found by the Better connected research team. Meanwhile major areas like social housing and benefits have recently been shown in the report Better connected: advice to citizens to be poorly catered for on local authority web sites.

In addition, the report is quite clear that the mandatory outcomes in two specific areas - conformance with Level AA of the WAI guidelines for accessibility, and the compliance with e-GMS for joined-up government - will not be achieved by all councils. In the case of the accessibility conformance, the report’s conclusion is based on the fact that its accessibility survey carried out on all web sites shows a compliance level to just Level A by only 18 councils.

Better connected 2004 contains a wealth of other information, much of it positive, both from the ‘mystery shopping’ exercise which is the main element of the research and from nine other surveys carried out with a series of collaborators (see below for further information). Key findings from the research include the following:

  • Comparison with CPA results in England shows that top-tier excellent councils have website rankings that are 16% higher than the rest (in shire districts the gap widens to 23%).
  • Although access to the Internet across the UK is not really growing very much, there is positive evidence to encourage local authorities to invest in their web sites.
  • According to surveys carried out for Better connected, between 3.8m and 5.7m people visited local authority sites in December 2003, (8.2% and 12.3% of the population, excluding under 15s).
  • Feedback from a user survey at nine councils with well developed sites shows that 74% would make the website their first port of call if looking for similar information in future
  • The number of technical errors on local authority sites has halved during the year according to the SiteMorse tests.

According to Martin Greenwood, programme manager for SOCITM Insight which produces the annual Better connected report, ‘the next year, and the one after, will not be easy times for many local authorities implementing e-government, especially in England, where balancing local priorities against mandatory national priorities will be challenging. However, o ne way of maximising resources is to share lessons learned. The Better connected report is very efficient means of doing so.’

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