Websites in 36% of local authorities have improved since last year.
The trend is towards interactivity: Tameside is named as the first local authority with a properly 'transactional' website (ie committed to delivering services on-line)
Email response from local authority websites has improved significantly.
A 'digital divide' is emerging with shire counties and London boroughs pulling ahead of other authorities in terms of development of on-line services.
The top 20 websites according to SOCITM's criteria are identified in the report as are the 26 most improved.
Better Connected 2001?, the third annual survey of websites published by SOCITM's MAPIT service, reveals growing maturity in the use of this medium by local authorities.
The survey, published on March 9, provides unique insights not just into website developments, but also the extent to which local authorities are responding to
The technology opportunity and customer expectations.
The Better Connected survey was carried out between 15 November 2000 and 8 January 2001 and involved a team of assessors visiting and testing every one of the 442 local authority websites existing during that period.
Websites were assessed and classified as promotional, content, content plus or transactional (ie significantly interactive). 36% of sites were classified as promotional (compared with 57% last year); 41% as content (35% last year); 18% as content plus (8% last year); and fewer than 1% as transactional (one site, compared with none last year).
On this basis, websites in 36% of local authorities have improved, according to these
criteria, since last year.
The emergence of the first transactional webiste (Tameside MBC) is hailed by the survey report as a landmark in local authority website development, symbolising a clear trend towards greater interactivity. Further examples of this can be seen in the ten authorities identified where residents can pay council tax on-line.
The Better Connected team also tested websites' ability to handle questions people might typically ask in specific situations such as moving into a new area or starting a business.
According to the survey report, most local authority websites fall short of being able to deal with such situations and in general, council webistes are not yet felt to be properly exploiting opportunities to deliver community leadership and joined up government alongside basic information content and service delivery.
The survey also tested local authorities' performance in responding to emails sent to their websites. The 53% which responded within three days showed a marked improvement over last year's perfomance, when just 24% responded within this timescale.
Summing up the significance of the findings of Better Connected 2001, Martin Greenwood, MAPIT Programme Manager says: 'The website is now central to the government's e-strategy because a substantial section of the public expects to use it as a matter of course.
'The information and services provided by the website have to be managed corporately and be integrated with best value and the whole of the modernising process. There is no room now for the site run by the enthusiastic amateur. Overall, Better Connected 2001? has found significant improvements but there is still much to do if websites are to become truly transactional according to our definition of that term.'
The top 20 sites identified in the report are:
Brent; Brighton & Hove; Cambridgeshire; Camden; Christchurch BC; Croydon;
Derbyshire CC; Devon CC; Dumfries & Galloway; Dundee City; Durham CC;
Hampshire CC; Richmond; Shropshire CC; Suffolk CC; Surrey CC; Tameside
MBC; Wandsworth; Wokingham; Wycombe DC.
MAPIT is a subscription service run by SOCITM to provide best practice advice and support for people managing ICT in local authorities and other public services. Its output is mainly in the form of publications, organised around a series of strands linked to the critical issues of the day. Over 360 public sector organisations now subscribe to the service.
SOCITM is an association of ICT professionals working in and for local authorities and other public sector bodies. It is a leading authority on the effective application of ICT in local government, providing information and advice through a growing programme of research, publications, conferences, training, and consultancy. More at www.socitm.gov.uk.