By Sam Rkaina, Local Government Reporter / firstname.lastname@example.org
BRISTOL City Council has been criticised for launching its £800,000 website at a time of frontline service cuts.
The authority launched its revamped site on Friday, nine months later than originally planned.
The council says the site will save money in the long run because it will make it easier for people to use services online.
It hopes to nearly triple the number of people making online payments within a year.
But questions have already been raised by Bristol residents about whether it is the best use of funds in the current economic climate.
Evening Post reader Mark Cooper said: “I noticed that the city council has “revamped” its website and changed everything.
“So now it’s all unfamiliar and you have to get used to a new look and layout, and it doesn’t seem any better to me.
“I wonder how much this cost? Can we really afford this at a time of austerity and cutbacks? Is it necessary?
“I don’t recall the council asking us how we wanted our taxpayers’ money spent.”
The council argues that the site is much easier to use, with a “more modern look and feel”.
Only the most popular pages from the old site have been carried over to the new site, though it is not yet clear which pages have been removed.
The site – which can be found at www.bristol.gov.uk – also now has a number of new features, including:
– An improved navigation system and better search engine powered by Google.
– Quick links to pay, apply and report online.
– ‘My Neighbourhood’ – a new postcode driven application for local information such as maps and planning applications.
Regular users of the old website will also no doubt be pleased that the “tell us what you think” survey panel that popped up every time you went to the main page appears to have been scrapped.
The cost to the council of an online transaction averages at 40p – this compares with £4.62 to handle a transaction over the phone and £7.03 for face-to-face.
The council aims to increase the number of residents using self-service including online to 40 per cent by 2012/13, up from 15 per cent now.
The new site’s budget will cost around £160,000 per year over five years. This includes design, development, moving content and support.
Council spokesman James Easey said the nine-month delay to the website launch was to avoid the costs going over budget.
Council Leader Barbara Janke said: “Bristol is widely recognised for its strong media, creative and digital economy. But for a city with such a strong record, the council’s website was outdated and cluttered with far too much information that had built up over time. The new site should be much more user-friendly.” and include easier ways to pay, apply and report online, which will be developed further over the next few years.
“It will also provide a more effective and modern service to visitors and investors.
She added: “In times of budget savings, the decision to invest in the new site was carefully considered. But large savings will be madein costs of transactions, remote and flexible staff working. A much more cost-effective and efficient service will also be available to residents.”