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Council websites falter on business services

Only 5% compliant with EU directive

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A Socitm survey has revealed that only five per cent of council websites comply with an EU directive to help businesses find out about licensing and other formalities.

The document, based on a survey of how well 433 local authority websites and websites from another 107 "competent authorities" complied with the EU Services Directive, rated only 27 websites (five per cent) as very good.

A further 99 (18 per cent) were rated as satisfactory, and 320 (59 per cent) were rated as poor. Socitm did not find relevant information about the remaining 95 (19 per cent).

It found that the two best performing groups were Welsh unitaries (36 per cent of which were satisfactory or good) and metropolitan districts (31 per cent). The two worst groups were shire counties (11 per cent) and Northern Ireland districts (12 per cent).

The report, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and published on 8 July 2010, is based on a survey of the progress of local government in implementing the EU Services Directive that came into force at the end of December 2009.

It requires that anybody wishing to set up a business to provide services should be able find information online about all the required formalities, and make any necessary applications and payments online.

Examples of poor practice highlighted in the document included "poor implementation", meaning an authority being able to answer queries on popular topics such as food registration, but not other topics.

More than half (59 per cent) of the websites were rated poor in relation to their care over "customer journey". Typically websites appeared to have fully implemented a procedure, but when Socitm's investigators clicked through to the Business Link website to use an online form, they discovered only a blank page.

Socitm found examples of websites where a council had clearly attempted to comply with the directive. In some instances councils had created new site content using a template from BIS, but had then failed to integrate this new information into the rest of the website.

Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight said: "Typically, the needs of individual citizens and individual customers have taken priority over the needs of businesses.

"The fact that there were only 8 per cent of visits to local authority websites in May 2010 for business purposes, even though this still represents 2.3 million visits in that month, is both a symptom and a cause of the problem."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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