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01.10.15

Councils agree to scrap 30 redundant public websites

Councils have agreed to close about 30 “redundant” public sector websites in collaboration with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to ensure the government’s digital presence is streamlined and in accordance to guidelines.

The move follows an audit of all gov.uk domains belonging to local authorities, devolved governments and local services carried out by the GDS over the past year.

The department searched thousands of domains to identify whether public websites breached their guidance of being inaccessible, not functional or leading to a non-government domain, which can often “chip away” the recognition and trust of the Gov.uk presence.

To streamline user experiences in local authority websites, the GDS is now persuading councils to retire old domains and amalgamate different services under one main website.

Evans Bissessar, chair of the GDS Naming and Approvals Committee (NAC), said: “When it comes to local authority websites, users don’t care about the name of a campaign. They just want a simple, online presence to pay, report, request, apply or understand something. Local authorities having multiple websites can confuse users.

“Some gov.uk owners don’t realise that defensive registration on gov.uk is not necessary and have a small stockpile of domains (which they probably owned the since internet began!).”

As a result, councils have already pledged to scrap around 30 websites – especially as shutting them down saves on domain and maintenance charges upwards of £40 every two years, depending on the registrar used.

Some organisations were also found to have owned a government domain for years despite no longer being eligible for it.

“We try to accommodate the owners as much as possible where closure of a site is concerned. We’ve got to maintain trust for the user and by keeping these domains open for long periods when they are found to be ineligible erodes that trust,” Bissessar said.

If councils or other public sector bodies are concerned about potentially breaching the standards, they must get in touch with the NAC in order to negotiate a timescale for closure.

Bissessar is also currently working with departments, search engines and the legal team to remove several domains that “pretend” to be the government website, but actually charge service fees “much higher” than Gov.uk.

But he added: “I won’t safeguard the public by ensuring all government-related services can be found at a gov.uk domain – whether Gov.uk or a local authority one. If a local authority or organisation has a gov.uk domain, they should use it.”

Yet he ensured that there is “no risk of cybersquatting” council websites, as only public sector organisations can own a gov.uk domain.

Comments

Cllr Dan Filson   05/10/2015 at 14:42

So long as the deletion of domain names doesn't lead to fraudsters creating bogus sites, fine. We don't want people sending their taxes to false HMRC sites or similar as that really would corrode trust in online working. My other concern is the inadvertent, if it is inadvertent, links to historic pages e.g. Planning applications over eight years ago, where seeing the officer reports and application detsils hrlps understand the site hisyory. The issue of computer memory space, although not trivial, is not as critical as once it was as storage capacity has grown considerably. Bring able to track a decision from its roots to the present is an important part of public accountability.

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