Councils reprimanded over Web promotion

The vast majority of users of local government Web sites find what they're looking for, but didn't find the site with any help from their council

Councils are losing money by failing to encourage the public to use online services as people are still opting to contact staff in person, new research has found.

A study from public-sector IT body Socitm claims only one in five people use local authority Web sites as a result of council promotions.

According to the research, the largest portion of visitors (29 percent) found council sites via Google, or by guessing the URL (18.5 percent). A quarter of survey respondents said they used the Web site because they worked for the council.

Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm, said in a statement: "We know from the e-citizen national project that there is a whole population out there ready to use council Web sites, and that getting them to do so will bring tangible benefits in terms of efficiency gains and increased satisfaction with the council.

"However, it seems that councils have to-date invested little in promotion, concentrating perhaps on getting the Web site right as a facility to offer. Now is the time to change priorities."

Warwickshire County Council claims to have saved £707,727 by encouraging the public to use online self-service facilities.

The study also showed an estimated 11.4 million visitors came to local government Web sites in May. Local residents were found to be the largest demographic of visitors.

More than 80 percent of respondents said they found what they were looking for on the council Web site. Job vacancies were the most frequently cited reason for the visit.