Customer Service Excellence not excellent

I told myself a while ago that I'd retired from bashing government websites. The DTI apart it never seemed to do much good, and I was getting reputation for being a zealot (which couldn't be further from the truth - I'm really a very pragmatic developer and know that at every turn in a web development project there are compromises to be made).

When the Cabinet Office's Customer Service Excellence website appeared last week I had a dig around, wasn't very impressed by what I saw and left it at that. But since then there's been a nagging voice at the back of my mind, urging me to think a little harder about this.

This bit of the site I found particularly hard to swallow:

The Government wants public services for all that are efficient, effective, excellent, equitable and empowering - with the citizen always and everywhere at the heart of public service provision.

So, let's consider the evidence and you can help me decide whether the Cabinet Office deserve to be hauled over the coals for the CSE website.

Firstly this is the same Cabinet Office that last year issued a consultation document, Delivering Inclusive Websites, which suggested that any government website that failed to conform to WCAG level AA by December 2008 could have its domain withdrawn, and that all new government websites should conform on launch.

So, as you'd expect, being brand spanking new the CSE website states proudly on its accessibility page:

In general, the site conforms to WAI double AA rating where HTML is used. Where documents are made available in other formats, conformance has not been achieved.

I think it's reasonable to have some documents in other formats which don't conform, so we'll overlook that.

Sadly, as you may have guessed, the rest of the site falls some way short of level AA conformance, and indeed some way short of level A conformance. I spent 15 minutes testing a few of the pages and found enough to satisfy me it was a bit short of the required standard. For example the home page features not a single HTML heading and lots of pictures of text without alt attributes. There are lots of other failings but the developers clearly need an accessibility 101 refresher.

The site isn't very good, and when you consider that:

…you can probably understand why I've come out of retirement.

I've made enquiries to the FOI team at the Cabinet Office. If you're tempted to do the same please don't - we had problems with the DTI dodging difficult questions because too many people were interested, it would be a shame if that were to happen again.

Comments

He's Alive! Long time no blog ;)

Another gov website, another failure. I'm hardly surprised to be honest Dan. I've come across a few good ones, but they're the exception rather than the rule sadly.

It'll be interesting to hear the excuses for this one.

Posted by: Karl at March 17, 2008 1:50 PM

It's good to be back. :-)

I was more disappointed than surprised, given the Cabinet Office's responsibilities. A rich irony, given the bluster in the consultation document...

Posted by: Dan at March 17, 2008 6:13 PM

I'm just seeing a blank page, am I missing something? Why have the Cabinet Office launched a new website when Gov is supposed to be rationalising?

Posted by: Darren Taylor at March 20, 2008 9:30 AM

Looks like the site is down. There were some improvements made yesterday to the home page and the feedback form, there may be more work going on now?

Posted by: Dan at March 20, 2008 10:11 AM

With Javascript - not unreasonably - disabled, that site ha a big block of text, saying:

// Provide alternate content for browsers that do not support scripting // or for those that have scripting disabled. Alternate HTML content should be placed here. This content requires the Macromedia Flash Player. Get Flash

Posted by: Andy Mabbett at March 23, 2008 11:52 AM

That's a strange one Andy, isn't it? They did something to cater for users without Flash by using a js-helper (horray!), but failed to provide alternative content (boo!). Suggests a lack of depth of understanding - most likely pasted the js into the code without really knowing what it did or reading it.

Posted by: Dan at March 23, 2008 12:34 PM

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