Redcar and Cleveland Council will pay private consultants £66,000 to develop a new website after the local authority said it no longer met the requirements of residents.
The council undertook a procurement process earlier this year to find a supplier to undertake the work with a two year contract – which began last month – being handed to Invotra Consulting, which will partner with another firm Annertech.
Woking-based Invotra Consulting describes itself as “deliver[ing] digital platforms that are designed with end users and data analytics at the core” and has been previously commissioned by a number of local councils.
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Meanwhile, Annertech is a digital design agency based in Dublin, Ireland.
The firms will design and build the new corporate website and provide ongoing technical support.
The council said it was too early to say when the new website would ‘go live’, but said during development there would be engagement with residents in the borough through a “viewfinder panel”.
In February last year a ransomware attack by hackers rendered the council’s website inoperable for a period, affecting payment systems and also taking down other functions such as the planning portal, while computer networks relied upon by staff were also hit.
The council said no money was handed over to the hackers, who were thought to be operating from abroad, and in April this year it received a £3.68m grant from the Government to mitigate the financial impact of the incident.
There has been frequent criticism from members about the inadequacy of the current website.
Councillor Philip Thomson, chairman of the Cleveland independents group on the council, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service an upgrade of the website had been “on the table now for some time”.
He said: “There is going to be a new-look website, which I have to say is overdue.
“We are impatient to see improvements, the search facility in particular is not very helpful.
“We have in recent years been shown various new models for the website, all of which have been deficient in some way or another.”
Cllr Thomson said he had previously asked if members could be involved in the redesign, so it reflected their needs as well as residents’ needs and those of business, and was told this would be the case.
He said: “An enquiry did go out to all members asking them if they had any views on the website as to where they thought improvements could be made.
“Hopefully all that market research from members at least has been gathered together.”
He said the £66,000 figure was actually less than what he anticipated because the sums previously quoted with potential re-designs had been substantially greater.
He said: “In today’s world, £66,000 is probably not a lot of money.
“Although if I was a resident and was offered that I’m sure I’d be very grateful for it.
“We need to try and ensure that whatever the figure is, it is well spent.”
Councillor Glyn Nightingale, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said the tendering process had been “rigorous” and the new website would be the “centrepiece” of its digital strategy.
The council has described moving towards a “digital first” strategy in which residents, visitors and partners can interact and carry out transactions online quickly and easily.
A delegated decision, which authorised the funding for the work, said the aim was to provide an improved, robust website.
It said Invotra Consulting had submitted the most economically advantageous bid, taking into account quality and price, and there was also the option of a six month extension to the contract agreed.
Cllr Nightingale said: “We aim to engage with residents in a format of their choosing.
“Many still prefer to speak with us over the phone or to meet face-to-face, and we will continue to do this.
“However, an increasing number of people wish to engage with us online.
“It has become clear that our current corporate website will no longer meet the needs and requirements of residents who wish to interact and transact easily and quickly online in the future.
“That is why we have decided to invest for the long term and build a website which will be more attractive and significantly improve accessibility to information.”
Cllr Nightingale added: “We completed a rigorous competitive tendering process and the new website will form the centrepiece for the council’s overall digital strategy, which was agreed by the cabinet and will ensure we meet the needs and requests of our residents in the future.”
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