There was a 40 per cent increase in the use of online council services last year. The results of this survey of usage by the Society of IT Management comes ahead of the launch next month of the Government’s programme to promote the use of e-government services across the public sector.The survey found that 11.4m users visited local government websites in February 2006, amounting to about 15% of the population and more than 20% of those who use the internet. Local residents, with 42% of visits, made up the largest group of visitors. Job seekers with 14 % were in second place. They were followed by library information, 8%, and planning applications, 5%.
A feature of the findings that is causing some concern is that only 12% of visitors came via council promotion or referral by council staff. Nearly half the visitors came as a result of using a search engine such as Google. This could be an indication that councils and staff are not promoting on-line services as vigorously as they might do.
According to Martin Greenwood, Programme Manager for Socitm, it is more important than ever for councils to get to grips with who is using their sites, for what purposes and how they find the experience. ‘The government’s advertising campaign which breaks in May will have a significant impact’ he says, ‘given that usage of council websites is already on a sharp upward curve. What will be important is for councils to maintain the levels of satisfaction we are seeing and the surveys available through the Website Take up Service are an important contributor to that end.’