Are councils defaulting on digital?

‘Digital by default’ – it’s the phrase echoing through the corridors of government buildings since the publication of its digital strategy1 in November 2012. It’s about improving and simplifying services, making sure that people can access them easily online, while not excluding those who can’t access the internet.

Put to the test

Although written with central government in mind, we believe its success will lie in its adoption across the wider public sector – including local authorities. That’s why Soctim, the professional association for public sector ICT management, put them to the test to find out if they’re meeting modern expectations. It published its results in its 15th annual ‘Better Connected’ report at the beginning of March.

It found that local authorities still have a long way to go to hit the digital mark. Only 37 of the 433 council websites surveyed achieved the report’s top four-star ranking.

But even some of the sites that scored four stars were not designed in a way that customers could complete essential tasks quickly – like paying a parking fine or applying for housing.

For example, when we took our Talking Points campaign to Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent, Erman told us how his council’s processes stopped him making a prompt payment for a parking fine. Watch the clip ( it’s just 59 seconds long):

Improving the state of digital

As Erman says, people expect instant access to information these days. They want services to be available online. And they want to do these things wherever they are, using their smartphone or tablet. Websites need to be mobile-friendly and apps can help make commonly sought-after information even more accessible – leading to more engaged citizens.

But with 58% of the population owning a smartphone2 – a number that’s growing rapidly – only 16% of the councils surveyed achieved the Better Connected new mobile standard.

Councils need to get the basics sorted first if they’re going to increase citizen engagement. And this doesn’t have to mean an entire website overhaul – it could just be a case of removing clutter and jargon. As one member of the Better Connected survey team said, “Most social services sections have too much jargon… you had to search about to see all the services on offer.”

It can help councils cope with the government’s ongoing austerity measures, too. By enabling better access to information online and providing self-service, councils benefit from the reduced costs of not needing so many people working on traditional communication channels, such as the phone or face-to-face.

So, there’s actually a lot to gain in becoming digital by default.

Find out more about the SOCITM Better Connected 2013 report.

We can help councils increase citizen engagement with improved mobile and digital platforms. To find out more, visit, download our thoughts on Joined Up Citizen or call Matt Worth on 01235 433 507.  


2 Seventh International Communications Market Report, Ofcom, 2012.