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Local councils suffer from poor web practice

Local councils suffer from poor web practice

Local councils in the UK have slightly improved their websites over the last year, but are still being let down by difficult to use transactional facilities, possibly leading to users leaving the websites and going through call centres instead, according to a new study.

The 2009 Local Council Website Usability report from user experience consultancy, Webcredible, revealed that councils have increased their focus on providing good online services with a slight overall improvement in website usability from 56.6 per cent to 59.9 per cent in the last year.

The leading councils in this year's report were South Oxfordshire with 73 per cent, Haringey with 70 per cent and Bristol and South Norfolk both with 69 per cent.

However, the report also revealed that many of the Society of IT Management's (Socitm) top 20 local council websites are still well below par when it comes to the usability of transactional aspects of the websites.  These factors included: error handling on forms, indicating response times and providing progress indicators.

According to Socitm 45 per cent of local council websites now offer transactional capabilities (increasing from 165 to 191 in the last year), considering the findings of this report, local councils really need to ensure that they focus more on making online transactions easy for the user.

Local councils also scored lower this year on the task of viewing planning applications online, reflecting the poor user experience of certain tools for finding and viewing these applications, such as maps.  In contrast, general scores for site navigation were high with an average of over 60 per cent in key navigation guidelines.

Director at Webcredible, Ismail Ismail, said, “With so much of the UK population online, and in a time when budgets are being slashed, there's a real opportunity for local authorities to take advantage of the strong economic benefits that come from using online over more costly channels.

“While they are improving their website usability gradually, and some councils are providing a very good online service, there is still significant scope for improvement, especially when it comes to online transactions."

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