More IT chaos at South Somerset
Over the past decade South Somerset District Council have been trying to persuade residents to use their website. Many offline services are no longer available. The council also spent millions of pounds on a failed transformation project. One of the key tasks of that project was to upgrade the IT systems.
This is a council that says of itself “Our Council has a proud reputation for going above and beyond“. It is not a reputation we have heard anyone apart from the Communications Team speak of.
“Going above and beyond” so much so that its offices were shut from 24 December to 4 January 2022. Tough if you needed the services of the proud council over Christmas and the New Year. Whilst many other councils were also closed for the same period, most don’t claim to have “a proud reputation for going above and beyond”
Of course even with a two week shut down, a skeleton staff must surely have been present. What did this mean in practise? One resident phoned in to lodge a complaint about noise on 24 December. She was told by the lone receptionist that there were no staff available. She was also told the council had not had an out of hours environmental health officer for two years. Obviously all part of going “above and beyond” for the residents of South Somerset.
However over the Christmas period the website has also been misbehaving, and this continued this week.
Yesterday we learned the council had acknowledged experiencing significant IT performance issues this week. The main issues were around the public facing end of the council’s website. We can vouch for this. Our own attempts to use the website have been routinely thwarted by slow pages or pages that simply refuse to load. However apparently the response of the website in other areas has been poor. For instance when trying to access services such as payments, and planning applications. The council have acknowledged internally that some attempted transactions have been abandoned.
Belatedly on 7 January Councillors were briefed on what was going on. They were told that the situation has had an adverse effect on public and SSDC staff using the website. Service Delivery teams have been particularly hit in trying to perform tasks.
The council have not attempted to get the message out to the public via the press. Not so much as a whiff of a press release after four days of online chaos. Maybe the council has a “proud reputation” for a reason. That being that when things go wrong it prefers not to tell people. And bear in mind it took from 21 December to 7 January to get around to telling councillors.
Of course a council that has abandoned all other forms of communication is stuck. If the website doesn’t work, what can you do? Put a banner up on the website?
So what has gone wrong? Is there any point asking an authority that prides itself on covering up the truth? Well this is what we have discovered. The issues only came to light when staff returned to work on 04 January. That’s not our view. It is the view of SSDC’s Lead Specialist for Digital Change.
This really is astonishing. The website that is the only way of contacting the council for most services. Was nobody at all on duty monitoring the website? Or were they on duty and didn’t notice?
The root cause seems to have been a software upgrade that was implemented on 21 December. The system software is provided by Civica. It may be the system has now been fixed. But it still seems to us inexplicable that the council was unaware of a significant problem for 2 weeks.
There are only two possible conclusions. Either the site was not monitored or it was monitored ineffectively. Neither answer will leave South Somerset residents with a warm glowing feeling.