Fife Direct (www.fifedirect.org.uk), the Fife Council managed website, have recently had their website upgraded. It is a welcome change, as the old site was very bulky and very hard to navigate and often lacked in information.
The new site has all their services listed in more visible categories, and the site design itself is very clean and user friendly. One of the biggest changes we noticed on the site, is that is available on https, all this means is that any information you enter on the site and any data you send on the site, will be encrypted, and difficult for would be hackers to obtain. HTTPS is usually used on shopping cart systems or any other service that provides some form of collecting of personally identifiable data, such as online banking systems, bill management, etc.
However, there is a reason for the site to be upgraded and this is due to the cuts that are being handed down from Westminster. In an effort to save costs, it has been decided to reduce front line services, by making services, that do not require face to face contact, available online. This will be happening to local authorities across the UK.
Reasons for Upgrading
During September 2010, SOCITM, carried out research and discovered that 42% of people accessing a local authority website could only find the partial information they were looking for, and half of that number, couldn’t find anything relating to the information they were looking for. The average number of dissatisfied people is 20,000 per month (UK wide).
For those that failed to find the information they required, it has been assumed that the next step, is to telephone the local authority, which costs the local authority £2.50 per call, and the total monthly cost is £11m (UK wide). A SOCITM employee stated:
“With the coming cuts in public spending, councils must invest in their web channel to save money through self-service, rather than adding unnecessary cost because customers can’t actually do what they want to online.”
SOCITM also deliver a Channel Value Benchmarking service, which discovered that the cost of face-to-face contact is between £1.80 per head and £13 per head of population, as reported in February 2011. To reduce these costs SOCITM have implemented a strategy to make more information available on local authority sites, and provide an easier and more navigational website.
It is hoped by providing a better online service, local authorities will be able to reduce face-to-face contact between individuals and local authority staff, and also reduce the amount of phone calls received.
Future Access to services
We have already seen a reduction in the opening times of the local office which is forcing local residents to travel to other communities to access a face-to-face service with Fife Council. With the latest drive from Westminster to reduce costs by introducing cuts, local authorities will be hard hit, and we are being told, that we still have to see the effects of the cuts, even though already we are facing increasing costs for everyday basic items and reductions in accessing local services.
With the website upgraded, and more information now appearing on the Fife Direct website, is this a sign that more cuts will be imminent on front line services?
One of the most negative aspects of cutting front line services and forcing people to conduct their business online, is the obvious reason, that not everyone has access to the internet, and while there is internet access at the local library, people are always advised not to use public internet to conduct personal activities, such as online banking, or sending sensitive personal information to the local authority.
This upgrade is also reminiscent of the upgrade of council numbers to the 0845 numbers which affected those with no telephone access, or mobile phone access only.
Poll & Feedback
While upgrading a website to provide better information and make a site more user friendly is a welcome change, it should not be used as an excuse to cut front line services, and only time will tell, if this upgrade is the start of Fife Council cutting even more front line services.
Please leave any feedback or comments below, thanks.