GDPR has been in effect for some time now and yet as it’s such a complex subject, we still see some grey areas and potential ways in which Parish Councils can unwittingly fall short of compliance.
Perhaps the most blurred area of GDPR is surrounding the use of councillors own devices when sending or receiving emails.
Some larger town councils have issued their members with dedicated devices that are intended purely for council business. Many councils, in particular the smaller authorities simply don’t have the budget to do this. It’s these councils that are perhaps most at risk of falling short of compliance.
Imagine that a councillor who has a dedicated council email address leaves the council, either because he / she retires, has a disagreement, violates policy or even dies. If that councillor has configured his device, be it a mobile device or a desktop computer, to send and receive email from a dedicated email address on the same domain as the council on which they served, then chances are, those emails are then stored on the personal device even after his or her departure from office.
From a security viewpoint, this device now contains public data that could potentially be accessed by anyone with access to the device. This poses a hole in GDPR security and a headache for any data controller.
We’re recommending to all our Parish Council and Town Council clients that they request that all their members remove any council email addresses from their personal devices. Moving forward, council members can access their email via webmail from any browser. Simply navigate to their Parish Council website and add /webmail to the end of the URL in the address bar. They can easily bookmark this page to enable speedier access. For example, anytownpc.org/webmail would take the council member to his online email account. Their existing username and password would enable them to log in.
The advantages of using webmail are many. The council have removed the danger of a security breach on a members own device as the emails viewed on webmail are not downloaded to the device used to access them.
In addition, the members will no longer see access issues which are common when trying to access email from a device using an email client. One wrong setting, such as a wrong port number can see a device locked out of accessing the server for hours. We’ve seen this with many councillors where they may have set up their phone correctly but have set up their tablet incorrectly. Their IP addresses are then banned from our servers for a predetermined amount of time which renders them unable to access email and the website. Using webmail removes this issue completely.
Accessibility regulations for public sector bodies came into force on September 23rd 2018. These new regulations, known officially as The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 build on existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland). These regulations state that all UK service providers must consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.
At first glance, these new regulations seem quite daunting. We’ve put together this simple guide that you can follow step by step.
When Do Parish Councils Need To Comply With The Accessibility Regulations?
First things first, let’s establish how long you have to comply. Was your website published before or after 23rd September 2018?
If it was published before 23rd September 2018 then you have until 23rd September 2020 to become compliant. If your website was published after 23rd September 2018 then you have until 23rd September 2019 to be compliant and publish an accessibility statement. You will need to review and update your accessibility statement regularly.
Does A Parish Council Website Need An Accessibility Audit?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of compliance it’s worth pointing something out here. As approved Jisc registrars of gov.uk domain names we’ve noticed of late that things have changed whenever we apply for a new .gov domain. One notable change is that we are sent an email that we must forward to the clerk, this includes a link to the Gov.UK service manual and more importantly a link to this page about making your service accessible.
Whilst the content of this page is self explanatory and in line with the regulations that this article discusses, one point in particular caused some alarm and that was this paragraph –
If you’re working on a GOV.UK service (that’s a service published on a .service.gov.uk subdomain), you must get an audit before your service moves into public beta.
The guide then goes on to suggest that an audit should typically cost between £3000 and £7000. As suppliers of websites to many Parish Councils we realise that this figure is untenable for many smaller authorities. After much research we found that many clerks had sought clarity on this point on the Government Digital Service Website. In performing this research we found some clarity from Joshue O’Connor, Interim head of accessibility at the Government Digital Service who, in response to a complaint from a Clerk said:
These are excellent points. We are aware that these cases do represent a vast part of the cohort. While we are talking about legal requirements for accessibility, it needs to be said that people in smaller organisations can only reasonably be expected to do their best.
IMO, if this is the case and they still fall short they shouldn’t be unnecessarily penalised, as the purpose of this whole accessibility ‘thing’ is to reduce barriers and increase inclusion – not develop a punitive culture of compliance.
This suggests that some further clarification will be coming in the future but for now, it would be safe to assume that smaller authorities shouldn’t have the burden of an external audit and that an internal audit by the clerk or the person responsible for the website should suffice when done in conjunction with the other points regarding accessibility compliance.
Top Tip! – Whilst a .Gov domain looks official, it isn’t a requirement for a Parish Council. It may be worth considering a .org.uk domain. Your website will still need to comply to the same regulations but clearly won’t require an audit.
How Can A Parish Council Website Comply With The Accessibility Regulations?
If you’ve already done some reading on the Accessibility Regulations then you perhaps feel a little overwhelmed. Thankfully however, chances are, technology is on your side. If your website was created and updated regularly over the past few years then it’s entirely possible that you’re half way to compliance already.
The new regulations need the website to comply to WCAG 2.1 AA. These standards range from A to AAA. In order to comply however, the website needs to achieve at least AA standard. Let’s take a look at these in summary form.
The regulations exist so that everybody can access the content of a website regardless of any impairments the user may have such as:
vision – severely sight impaired (blind), sight impaired (partially sighted) or colour blind people
hearing – people who are deaf or hard of hearing
mobility – those who find it difficult to use a mouse or keyboard
thinking and understanding – people with dyslexia, autism or learning difficulties
When we think of these impairments, we then start to think how they may affect how people interact with a website. This may include the ability to:
use a keyboard instead of a mouse
change browser settings to make content easier to read
use a screen reader to ‘read’ (speak) content out loud
use a screen magnifier to enlarge part or all of a screen
use voice commands to navigate a website
A modern website such as ours is already compliant out of the box in so far as it allows interaction with assistive technologies such as screen readers. Now we know the basics of what the regulations require, let’s break down the steps needed to achieve compliance.
A Simple Guide To Compliance
Provide Alt text
This means providing text for none text items such as an image. You can imagine that text readers struggle when it comes to an image unless an alternative text description is provided. When uploading an image to our website you’ll be presented with an alt image box. You can insert a short description in here. For example, when uploading an image of a councillor you can simply insert the alt text “photo of councillor John Doe”. When a text reader comes across the image it will state “Image – Photo of Councillor John Doe”. This enables the person with a visual impairment to know what images are on the webpage.
Transcripts For Audio / Video
Any future videos or audio files need to include a text transcript to replace the audio.
Provide Captions For Video
Captions for video help those with audio impairments.
Content To Be Structured Logically and Accessed By A Screen Reader
Most modern websites have this capability out of the box. It’s only by ensuring that those who update the website maintain this compliance by not uploading images of text. For example, taking a scan of a poster advertising a garden fete and posting it as a notice on the website without a full text transcript would render the site non compliant as text readers can’t read the text on an image.
Colour Not To Be Used As A Description or Indentifier
For example, an instruction to click on the blue button would exclude those who cannot distinguish between colours.
Use Text Colours That Show Up Against The Background
Thankfully, gone are the days when we used to see yellow text on dark green backgrounds. Using a black text on a white background is one of the best contrasts.
Ensure Text Can Be Resized
Whilst you don’t need to provide this feature (as most browsers provide the function) you need to make sure every feature can be used when text size is increased by 200% and that content reflows to a single column when it’s increased by 400%
Make Sure That Your Website Is Responsive
Again, any modern website should be able to resize it’s content automatically depending on screen size or based on page orientation and font size that a user prefers.
Compatible With Assistive Technologies
A website must work well with assistive technologies – for example, important messages are marked up in a way that the screen readers knows they’re important. Yet again, a modern website such as the ones that we supply will already be compliant in this respect.
Putting It All Together
So as we’ve seen, a large part of becoming compliant lies with the technology that the website is built on. Our Parish Council Websites are already compliant out of the box. The only concern that you must have once the website is up and running is that you must be mindful of providing text alternatives for things like images and videos. It’s therefore crucial that whoever is responsible for uploading and creating content on your website is trained and educated in what is and isn’t acceptable in order to maintain compliance.
It’s worth noting that some technologies such as maps are still not compliant with certain parts of the regulations. It’s difficult for text readers to understand an embedded map so wherever possible you can include a title and an alternative method of conveying the information that the map provides. If you have such elements on your website then it’s important to include these in your accessibility statement which we’ll cover in a moment.
Compliant websites must be able to work with certain assistive technologies. The Government Digital Service suggests that testing is done using the following technology.
JAWS -Screen Reader – Internet Explorer 11
ZoomText – Screen Magnifier – Internet Explorer 11
Dragon Naturally Speaking – Speech Recognition – Internet Explorer 11
NVDA – Screen Reader – Firefox (Latest Versions)
VoiceOver – Screen Reader – Safari iOS10 and OSX onwards
Of course this list isn’t exclusive but covers the most common technology. Additionally, you may want to provide your own online tools that enable the user to increase font size and contrast easily. This isn’t a requirement but it can be a good idea if you want to go to these lengths. We’re happy to advise on this on a case by case basis.
Writing An Accessibility Statement
Once you’ve tested and self audited your website you can then move on to publishing an accessibility statement. This again isn’t as daunting as you may think, It’s a simply format that gives the user a brief summary on the parts of the regulations that you comply with and if there are any parts that you don’t, for instance a map, then you can provide a method of contact to further help the user. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we’ve provided a link to the government guidelines and example accessibility statement published by the GDS.
Complying with the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 isn’t as daunting as it may first seem. The take away points from this article are
Our websites are compliant out of the box
Non compliance can be caused by creating content that doesn’t have text alternatives for images, videos and audio files.
Keep the regulations in mind when considering new features or content. Very often, less is more when it comes to aesthetic features such as sliders and animations as they often aren’t easily read or interpreted by assistive technologies.
NetWise UK are leaders in providing affordable websites for Parish Councils. You can find out more about our services here.
Ticehurst Parish Council in East Sussex approached us to create a replacement website that would ensure their compliance with GDPR, The Transparency Code and The Accessibility Code.
We created their website in accordance with their requirements and working with the team there we switched over to the new website with relative ease within weeks of receiving the order.
The new Ticehurst Parish Council Website is optimised to be accessed from any device including mobile phones. It can be easily updated with little to no training and ensures that the Parish Council is able to present statutory information as well as providing a valuable community resource.
We’re pleased to welcome Ticehurst PC as our clients and delighted that they chose to join the many other Parish Councils and Town Councils who have selected NetWise as their website provider.
A point was raised by a local resident at a recent Parish Council meeting that the information contained on our previous website was both out of date and inconsistent depending on which operating system you were accessing from. We took on the task of updating the site and looked at lots of self-build options. Then we found this system. Everything we needed was already set out in a reliable and manageable system. The WordPress structure means we can edit and juggle pages as we need to and the system takes very little knowledge to manage. Where we did need tuition and guidance the NetWise people were incredibly helpful, fast to respond and extremely patient! The price is fair and the service is fabulous, so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. Without this system I would still be fiddling around, trying to author a site badly.
Councillor James Galpin – Ticehurst Parish Council
It’s always a pleasure working with a team of enthusiastic people and that’s exactly what the team at Fittleworth Parish Council are!
We were contacted by them earlier in the year following their search for a new website provider. It’s great working with a team that truly get on board and who realise that developing a new website is a partnership between developer and client.
The new Fittleworth Parish Council website is fully compliant with the transparency code and displays perfectly on any device. We look forward to a long partnership with yet another great team!
We’re thrilled to receive another great commendation – Thank you!
Well done and thank you parishcouncilwebsites!
After frustrating months trying to set up a new website with a different parish council website provider, we abandoned them and were only sorry we hadn’t found parishcouncilwebsites.org.uk and Netwise in the first place.
Working mainly with Adam, we have been impressed with the excellent support, advice and quick responses given. We needed a council website that encompassed the whole community; this has been achieved with their (ongoing!) adaptability, understanding and help.
We have been particularly pleased with the clean modern look of our new website which is easy to navigate and update and has been well received by our community.
Hannah Hails (Fittleworth Parish Clerk) Alison Welterveden (Councillor) and Margaret Welfare (Village rep.)
We were contacted by the Vice Chair of Biddenham Village Parish Council earlier in the year enquiring about designing a new parish council website. We were pleased that the council decided to go for our premium package and that they wanted to provide a useful resource for the parish in addition to meeting their obligations of complying with the transparency code.
Biddenham PC have been a pleasure to deal with and it was a delight to help them go live with their new website last week. It was also lovely to receive a glowing testimonial from them which is always appreciated by our team as it reinforces that we are succeeding in our efforts.
Joe Warren wrote:
Netwise Training Limited as a website developer are an excellent company to work with, I cannot praise them enough. I discovered them by accident whilst surfing the net to find a provider to create a new website for Biddenham Parish Council.
I left messages with a number of other providers but I found their responses unsatisfactory. In comparison I found Netwise to be a breath of fresh air. They were keen to please and didn’t rush you. They listened to you and you had a rational two way conversation.
You pay the price you see on their tariff sheet with no hidden extras. Our website was developed quickly and I feel they went out of the way to make the website a success. I am very pleased with the result.
I have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone that wishes to engage them to build a website.
The old website no longer met requirements
The new website is a valuable village resource
The council are still putting the finishing touches to their new website but we’re pleased that together, we’ve created a valuable resource for the village.
We were approached recently by Berwick Bassett and Winterbourne Monkton Parish Council to assist them in complying with the transparency code and helping them to launch a website that would best serve their parish.
We initially set up a dummy website so that the members who would have responsibility for updating the information could get a feel for how easy the website is administered and edited. This also gave the council members the opportunity to assess if we could meet their needs and they were able to discuss in depth before going ahead.
We’re happy to report that our solution met with all their needs and also discharged all their obligations to comply with the transparency code.
It’s been a pleasure dealing with the members at BBWMPC and such a pleasure to see them take to their new website with such ease.
We made a few custom changes to the package that they chose so that they could have the exact functionality that they needed. You can take a look at their new Parish Council Website by visiting http://bbwmpc.org
If you serve on a Parish Council and you like what you’ve seen here then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re happy to talk through your requirements and to ensure that you become compliant with minimal cost and fuss. Our Parish Council websites will not only ensure your compliance with the transparency code but will also allow your website to be accessed and displayed from any device.
A question that we are often asked is “What is the best type of website for a Parish Council?” Hopefully we can explain here why we believe that our WordPress powered websites are the best solution.
One In Four New Websites Use WordPress
Organisations around the world are waking up to the potential of WordPress and not without reason. Companies such as New York Times, The Metro, Ford Motor Company, Sony, M&S, BBC, Star Wars and even The Rolling Stones have chosen Wordpress to power their official websites.
If you consider that there are hundreds of different platforms that can be used to design a website, the fact that WordPress accounts for 25% of all new websites is impressive.
Easy To Update
We realised that most Parish Council websites will be updated by a parish clerk that may have limited website experience and so we have configured our websites to be easily updated. If you can use a word processor then you’ll be able to update our websites.
The Transparency Code states that minutes should be published within a month of the meeting to which they relate and that meeting agendas should be published no later than three days before the meeting that they refer to. If you use a static website then you may have to rely on a web designer to post any updates, not only can this be costly but can also cause delays which would impact on your compliance.
Watch the short video below to see just how quickly and easily you can add minutes, agendas, Councillor details and more.
More and more of us are using smartphones to access the internet. Our Parish Council websites are designed to display on all devices and will automatically adapt depending on the size of the screen that the website is being displayed on.
This means that you website will look great and be easily accessible across all devices, including, desktops, laptops, tablets and mobiles.
Smaller authorities with a turnover of less than £25k per year are required to publish the following, on a freely available website:
all items of expenditure above £100
end of year accounts
annual governance statements
internal audit report
a list of councillors and responsibilities
the details of public land and building assets
minutes, agendas and any associated papers
Your council may be eligible to receive a grant towards getting a computer and setting up a website to enable the council to comply with the Code. Contact NALC for more information and an application form. The first monies were made available to parish councils in November 2015 and monthly from then until the end of the 2015/16 financial year when the process will be reviewed.
You may be wondering how long the information has to remain on your website.
“There is no requirement to retain information indefinitely online, and your authority should follow its own records management policy. As a guide, however, the Information Commissioner’s Office provides a model publication scheme under the Freedom of Information Act, which can be summarised as:
Any information about decision-making and records of decisions should be made available for the current financial year, plus the previous three financial years;
Any information about financial records (e.g. from parking income, to salary information) should be made available for the current financial year, plus the previous two financial years;
Any other substantive information (e.g. constitution) should be up to date.
It is for your councillors to decide whether to fund the expansion of a website, to allow for material to be stored. We would of course encourage them to consider the importance of transparency for all public services. Access to information about how public money is spent is an integral aspect of local accountability and the democratic process.”
The easiest way to ensure compliancy and at the same time ensure that your clerks aren’t overloaded with additional work is to have a purpose built parish council website. These are designed specifically to help smaller authorities to meet their obligations. With ongoing help and support, becoming compliant doesn’t have to be as daunting as you may think. Click here for more details.
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