Councils are commissioning the wrong type of website

21 August 2020

We are all now fully aware that six weeks from now (by 23rd September 2020) all public bodies who do not meet the exemption criteria must have a website that complies with the WCAG 2.1AA accessibility guidelines.

Introducing these guidelines is a great initiative and means that the large numbers of those in communities who have difficulties or disabilities when it comes to using the internet will be able to better access the information to which they are entitled.

However, while the Government has issued a lot of information on the requirements of public bodies and their websites (which includes parish, town and city councils) it is all very technical and almost completely alien in its language to most clerks and the councillors.

The terminology of ‘website’ and ‘accessibility’ are clearly familiar but that’s pretty much where it ends.

There is a great deal of evidence, gathered by talking directly to clerks over the last year and who are in the process of planning for the new website, that indicates a potential compliance and financial problem.

Clerks and councils are commissioning the wrong type of website.

We’re receiving lots of reports that council are commissioning new websites but without the minimum standard of WCAG 2.1AA compliance as part of the brief to the website developer or the tender process – which is the whole reason for the need for a new site and not just because the website is old and looks dated. In other cases, some councils are being delivered new websites that don’t comply to the standards as required in their brief.

Some councils are misunderstanding this demand to comply as a need for a new website from a stylistic point of view, rather than the fact their current one does not meet the accessibility guidelines requirements as set out in the Standard WCAG 2.1AA. Consequently, councils end up commissioning a new website but that still does not meet the technical requirements.

This has implications both in terms of them still not meeting the legal requirement to meet the accessibility regulations and also wasting valuable funds from each council’s budget – by having to subsequently spend more unbudgeted funds on the correct type of website.

It’s understandable how this is happening – it’s a very technical subject and the responsibility has been placed on clerks and councillors who, in most cases, do not possess the knowledge to know what to do and whether what’s being recommended to them is even accurate.

Most parishes and smaller towns have historically relied on their local web guy who built them a website five or six years ago and he or she does little updates and general keeps it ticking along for them. The issue is that, whilst that person’s skill may be evident for a commercial website, when it comes to the new and complex WCAG 2.1AA compliance, they are often unaware of the complexity or posses the knowledge to comply. Evidence suggests that many don’t even know what WCAG compliance is.

And so, with the looming deadline on councils to have a new website live by 23rd September that complies with the accessibility regulations, many councils will have spent money from their budgets on a wholly unsuitable (but new) website in the mistaken belief that it complies with the single requirement that they need to meet – the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.

So, what can be done?

1. Speak to your web company and ask them the simple question: “Does our new website comply with WCAG 2.1AA accessibility standards?”

2. Ask them to show you a scan report that shows that it does. A knowledgeable developer or web company will be able to do this.

3. Check it yourself by downloading free browser plugins for Chrome, such as WAVE by WebAim or SiteImprove – this will give you a very good indication immediately.

4. Check your brief to the website developers that it included (or includes) reference to it needing to comply with WCAG 2.1AA.

Click here to view the WCAG 2.1AA compliant website packages offered by SLCC in partnership with Aubergine, who have developed an off-the-shelf compliant website package with discounts available for SLCC members.

General Sector News