PLANS to undertake a “major programme” to replace St Helens Council’s website has moved closer after cabinet agreed to seek out a supplier.
The council intends to replace its website, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and Content Management System (CMS) as part of its ‘One Council’ modernisation programme.
On Wednesday, cabinet agreed to begin the search for a supplier to deliver the project.
The plans come after a review was undertaken in 2018-19 to look at how the council can better engage with residents through its digital offerings.
Labour’s Kate Groucutt, cabinet member for corporate services, estates and communication, said: “The council, during the long periods of austerity that we’ve had since 2010, we’ve continued to prioritise and protect, rightly, the delivery of our front-line services wherever possible.
“But as a result of this we have had reduced ongoing investment in some of our back-office functions like our digital and ICT infrastructure.
“During 2018-19 a review was undertaken to look at how we can better engage with residents and communities through our website, Contact Centre and other means.
“This review found that, despite their being minimal investment in these areas during the last few years, an impressive amount has been achieved at very little cost.
“We’ve got the website, we’ve got the app and staff are doing a brilliant job in helping residents and providing excellent customer service.”
In 2018-19 the council’s website, which was last refreshed in 2016, had 1.5 million visits, an increase of 26 per cent compared to 2016-17.
Almost half of all users now access the site using a mobile device.
Cllr Groucutt said that, while the council’s systems are functional, there is a lack of integration and some processes are not “intuitive”.
In addition, she said there is an “inconsistent look and feel” to some of the online forms.
Cllr Groucutt said the review identified that replacing the council’s current website and some of the associated systems that sit behind it could provide potential for bringing about “significant service improvement”.
A team of officers have already undertaken soft market testing for a new website partner.
Following on from this, a detailed specification is drawn up and a procurement process is undertaken to identify a preferred supplier.
Cllr Groucutt said the preferred supplier will be asked to provide an end-to-end solution that will give the council a more “functional, intuitive and transparent application”.
The project will form part of the One Council modernisation programme, first unveiled in July.
According to the cabinet report, indicative costs are approximately £500,000 in year one, including project management and start-up costs.
Ongoing annual costs in the region of £120,00 per annum, which will be funded from reductions in staffing posts plus additional non-staffing savings.
These non-staffing savings will be determined over time as operational efficiencies are identified across services, as generated by the new system.
Caroline Barlow, St Helens Council’s deputy director for finance and HR, said the council will offer its “full support” to any staff affected by staffing restructures in the coming years.
Ms Barlow said: “More and more people are contacting us online, so it’s critical that we provide residents with a modern, accessible website through which they can reach us, and back that up with functional and efficient customer relationship management tools.
“As we move forward with these essential modernisation plans we may look to review staffing structures, since the needs of these services may change over time. This will be a long process over the next few years and any review will be done in full consultation with staff.
“If any staff are affected we will offer full support and we are committed to our policy of redeployment first.”
Cabinet agreed the recommendations in the report, which included a recommendation to approve the funding allocation.
A further report will be brought back to cabinet once a supplier has been found.