CamdenNewJournal

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It’s a bit like Apple and their iPhones: Camden’s response to creaking new website

Cabinet councillor disputes claims that there has been a deluge of complaints since launch

28 February, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Richard Olszewski shows the Tories his iPhone

KEEP calm – it’s not that bad, was the message from Camden’s finance chief this week amid further complaints that the council’s new website is failing the public with broken pages and creaking links.

Camden, which bills itself as being at the cutting edge of tech improvements to local government, launched a £260,000 redesign of its website last month.

But residents have been left straining to find information due to a host of dead links, largely when they search on Google.

The Conservative opposition group says the problems should have been ironed out before the new service went online and want a timescale for problems to be put right.

Tory councillor Andrew Parkinson told Monday’s full council meeting: “We’ve been inundated with complaints about the website and in particular the search function. It’s incredibly difficult to find, for example, licensing applications. Some neighbourhood plans are hidden behind a password-protected page, as are maps of controlled parking zones. There are numerous broken links.”

He added: “Not only is it a legal requirement that these documents are easily accessible, but our website is a key way of communicating with residents and it’s just not doing its job.”

But Labour cabinet councillor Richard Olszewski, who is in charge of finance and tech, compared the council’s online changes to Apple’s progress and held aloft his own iPhone.

He said: “I don’t know what smartphone Councillor Parkinson uses but if you’ve been on an iPhone since its inception you are probably now on your 39th upgrade, which just goes to show that even with the best resourced people in the world, change is a constant process of improvement and that’s what we are doing with the website.”

Cllr Olszewski’s predecessor in the role, Theo Blackwell, went on to become London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s digital guru and Camden promotes itself as being at the forefront of digital innovation. An attempt to share digital services with neighbouring Labour councils, however, was recently abandoned after officers discovered it was saving less money than expected.

Talking about the new website, Cllr Olszewski said: “There are some issues around the website, that’s stating the obvious, but I think it’s important not to exaggerate the scale of them. To say that ‘we’ve been inundated’ with complaints: the last time I checked we had three official complaints regarding the website.”

He added: “It’s important to stress we are talking about a completely new website, and change doesn’t come in a completely 100 per cent perfectly formed way.”

He said that Google had not updated its new links and the council could not force the search engine “to change how its crawlers operate” and could only provide a timescale for fixes when he knew specific residents’ complaints.

The Tories say residents cannot find details of where to complain on the new website. Details of planning applications are printed every week in the New Journal.

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