Government sites continue to flout standards

It's still do as I say, not do as I do, for the prime minister, the e-envoy and most government agencies when it comes to complying with their own e-standards

Government agencies are continuing to flout the government's own guidelines for interoperability, and failing to comply with the most basic standards designed to make Web sites accessible to people with disabilities, according to recent testing.

UK Online for Business, the Department of Trade and Industry's Web site that was launched to help businesses make the most of their IT investments, came bottom of a league table of UK government sites for the second month in a row.

Just above it, at number 60 in the league table compiled by Web site testing firm Business2WWW, was the e-envoy's site.

Of the 62 government sites tested, all but five failed to comply with government standards on metadata and the e-Government Metadata Framework (eGMF). Thirty-three sites tested failed a basic metadata test for their front page.

Development of the eGMF, which forms part of the e-Government Interoperability Framework (eGIF), was led by the Office of the E-envoy, as an essential element of modernising government; it enables "better use of official information, joined-up systems and policies, and services designed around the needs of citizens," according to the latest draft of version 2.

Yet only five sites had any of the mandatory data, and the best score was just under 5.88 percent compliant -- every other site, including that of the e-envoy, failed on every single page. Furthermore, only four of the sites tested passed tests for compliance with the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines. Every one of the other 58 sites failed to meet the basic Priority 1 requirements -- the most basic level of accessibility without which, says the W3C, "one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents."

The Office of the E-envoy redeemed itself somewhat here, by being one of the four government Web sites to comply with Priority 1 of the WAI guidelines. Ranking alongside it with 100 percent compliance were the government's disability site, UK Online, and the Equal Opportunities Commission. Those sites to singularly fail people with disabilities, by being less than 1 percent (and in some cases 0 percent) compliant with the guidelines, included: the DTI's consumer gateway site; the Home Office site; and the Community Legal Service site which, among other things, carries advice for people with disabilities and tells them how to deal with discrimination. Other sites that scored less than 1 percent in their efforts to cater to people with disabilities include Transport for London, UK Sport, the Welsh Office and the Web site for the prime minister, whose site scored zero on all compliance tests.

The sites were tested for errors such as faulty email addresses, server errors, missing pages and images, faulty page links, incorrect DNS settings and bad paths. The rankings also took into account factors that may not cause fundamental operational problems, said Business2WWW, but which still represent poor site design.

Server response times and download speeds were measured too.

The site with the lowest number of warnings (of poor HTML) was Invest to Save Budget. UK Sport had the highest number of warnings with nearly 50,000. The site with fastest overall server response was that of the Public Record Office, where average page response was 0.015 seconds. The site with the slowest response time again was UK Online for Business, where average page response was over 15 seconds per page. The site with the highest download speed was that of the e-envoy, and UK Online for Business had the slowest download speed of sites tested.

Overall, the number of errors has been reduced since the last report, with HM Treasury showing considerable improvements.