Thursday 7 July 2011

Carmarthenshire - a foggy cloud

Anyone trying to access Carmarthenshire's website by googling "Carmarthenshire County Council" since Monday afternoon this week will first have been presented with a bi-lingual banner page asking you to choose Welsh or English. No matter which language you choose, you will then be met with an announcement, which begins as follows:

Website Downtime
Unfortunately the Carmarthenshire County Council website is experiencing down time due to essential maintenance.
The website will be down from May 13th until the14th May. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
Gwefan lawr
Yn anffodus mae gwefan y Cyngor Sir i lawr oherwydd cynhaliaeth hanfodol.
Mi fydd y wefan i lawr rhwng Mai 13eg a 14eg. Rydym yn ymddiheuro am unrhyw anghyfleustra.
 Remembering that we are now in July, you may be forgiven for feeling a little confused.

Somewhere recently, the council published a report praising its own website and pointing out that it enables council tax payers (or "customers" as we must learn to think of ourselves) to access a number of different services, make payments, etc. I'd like to tell you where that report is, but I can no longer find it.

Earlier this week, geeks the world over would no doubt have been thrilled to read the following press release produced by Xsigo Systems Inc. It tells us that the county council, which likes to think of itself as a "technology early adopter", is moving towards cloud computing. At the moment, that cloud seems to have descended very low indeed, with zero visibility for most of this week.

Residents of Carmarthenshire who have tried finding information on the council's website (when it's up), or who have been to a public meeting in County Hall and seen the mainly grizzled old councillors, may well struggle to associate their council with cutting edge technology, progress or dynamism. Only a few weeks back, after all, a member of the public was arrested for holding a small metallic device commonly known as a mobile phone.

The contrast between the council's PR and the reality is, as ever, depressing. The website has suffered a lot of downtime this year, usually at weekends it is true, but to have a almost a week of downtime from an important branch of government in this day and age is simply utterly unacceptable.
When the service is finally restored, it is worth having a look at the main menu page. The main options reflect the way in which the council organises its own departments rather than the way the rest of us might think. Want to know how to register a death? Click on "Community and Living". Want to contact Trading Standards? Go to "Environment and Planning".

 But there is some good news. If you google a specific topic, such as "Carmarthenshire County Council Agendas", you should find that you can access the website through a back door.

Meanwhile, it appears that while the cones and yellow tape have been up, some kind of cleaning has been going on inside, with important documents, such as the "Statutory Consultation on Tri-Level Reform in Dinefwr" (i.e. the row over the merger/closure of secondary schools) disappearing and then re-appearing. Attempts to read some of the public reports produced by the council meet with an angry "Access Denied" message. Let's hope Mrs Mop doesn't flush away any documents which the courts may wish to inspect.

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