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Council Precepts and Website Budgets

Mark Tomkins

Council precepts and website budgets – making sure you plan properly for your key communication tool.

As a busy clerk or councillor, when it comes to the council website you’ve very likely had a member of the community build, host and look after it for you. The site was probably built 5+ years ago. You may even just have had a few pages on the village’s website for the council information. All perfectly normal and what the majority of small public bodies have done for years.

Before we go too far, it’s worth being transparent by saying that I am a parish councillor in my private life of many years and fully understand the requirements and demands on busy clerks and how heavy the administration of a council is. I also have first-hand experience in work with and supporting hundreds of parish and town councils and providing guidance in website best practice for the public sector.

But now Website Accessibility compliance is required by all public bodies, you’re probably working through the process, if not already completed, to get your site compliant with WCAG 2.1AA. And If you’ve not got anything in place yet, we’d encourage you to take a look at our WCAG compliant website packages.

But the thorny subject of money rears its head and how the parish is going to pay for this new requirement.

We wrote an article last month that explained why parish councils need to avoid having their information on village websites as they could fall foul of the WCAG website accessibility guidelines as very few, if any, village websites comply with the accessibility standards as required by a parish council. Read “Parish Council and Village Websites – they both must comply with WCAG 2.1AA and here’s why.”

So where does that leave my small parish or town council website?

Whether you’re a town or parish council, compared to the commercial sector, you’ve probably been spending very little on the council website and its upkeep – a few hundred pounds each year in many cases.

But since March, and the global pandemic making everyone to think about how they can better communicate, the website has had the demands put on it greatly increased. And we don’t see this changing any time soon – it’s a very good way to provide good, detailed information to parishioners in safety.

However, this higher demand has exposed cracks in performance, weaknesses in how the website works and highlighted just how much an important communication tool the website is for a council, regardless of its size.

Free or cheap hosting, old fashioned websites and parish council pages that appear on village websites are now not good enough and it’s time to get both compliant with the website accessibility requirements as well as up the council’s game and use the website to greater effect rather it just be a document dumping ground.

That means you need to budget for it properly moving forward and making sure that the website has a reasonable budget set aside for it in the precept.

And now that it is precept season (as I write this, it is late November) it’s the right time to seek out the costs needed for you to meet compliance and improve this most valuable tool for a council. It’s also time to make sure the councillors fully understand that this is not something that can be dodged because of the cost. It has to be done and is the law since September 2020. You can read our original article about what’s required to get your parish or town council website WCAG 2.1AA compliant here.

So, what’s this all going to cost? Precept advice.

There are a few elements to a website – the domain name, the website itself, the ongoing hosting and support. The budgets I recommend are based on typical costing as well as basing this on the WCAG 2.1AA compliant website package we have developed in association with SLCC and our partnership with many ALCs across the UK. The figures recommended are averaged and you may wish to factor in a small additional amount for any specific functions that are particular to your council.

As a small parish council

Domain name: .com/.org/ £20-30 per year £80-100 per year – yearly recurring
WCAG compliant Website build: £700-1200 + VAT – one off, depending on features
Hosting and support: £199 -£299 + VAT per year – yearly recurring

As a medium to large parish council

Domain name: .com/.org/ £20-30 per year £80-100 per year – yearly recurring
WCAG compliant Website build: £900-1400 + VAT – one off, depending on features
Hosting and support: £199 -£299 + VAT per year – yearly recurring

As a town council

Domain name: £80-100 per year – yearly recurring (town councils should only operate from a .gov domain
WCAG compliant Website build: £1000-1800 + VAT – one off, depending on features
Hosting and support: £299 + VAT per year – yearly recurring

Ongoing checking

You may also wish to have a WCAG compliance scanning service to quarterly check the web pages rather than you have to do this as it can be very time consuming, albeit a very education and learning experience as you’ll learn the details of what means for good website accessibility. The cost for this is £299 + VAT. Many councils have this service for the first year or so until they get used to the new way of publishing.

And finally, email

You’ll notice that I have not mentioned email. This is a bigger subject that really should fall outside of this article as it is bound by its own, detailed aspects that are only partially connected to website compliance and budgeting.

In short, you should have a separate email service that is not on the same host space as your website. There are many technical reasons why this is not recommended – phishing, GDPR and general security to name a few. Needless to say that, if you are operating from a domain name, you must have email for the domain as well – at the very least the clerk needs this as it is part of the terms set down by JISC and The Cabinet Office when taking ownership of a domain.

If you are operating from a .org/.com/ domain we recommend using either Microsoft’s O365 or Google’s GSuite service. It’s not free but you will get a fully-GDPR compliant email service and will cost around £5 per mailbox, per month. If, however, funds won’t stretch to that, you can use a service like Google’s free email – Gmail – but ensure that your councillors use that address solely for council emails. All-too often we see councillors using their private email address for council communications – which of course is not best practice and has all sorts of possible GDPR implications.

Why not consider using Gmail for everyone and follow the same naming culture:

[email protected], [email protected]

In summary

Historically, public bodies have got away with not spending very much, if at all anything on one of the most significant ways to communicate with its parishioners but with the perfect storm of both the need to meet accessibility requirements as well as the pandemic, the time has come to give the council website the time and support it deserves and needs.

With that in mind, the time is now to make sure you allocate some funds towards the website in your 2020-2021 precept rather than face having to draw on the council reserves, should be luck enough to have any

Free guidance and advice

It’s a very technical subject and a lot to take on and so we are offering free, no obligation advice and guidance for any clerk or councillor. Just pick up the phone and call me on 07810 753878 or send me a message through our webform.

About the Editor

Mark Tomkins, Founder, Aubergine
Mark Tomkins is the founder of Aubergine and has been in the creative and web industry for over 30 years. He is an experienced and active parish councillor and writes on website accessibility using first-hand experience and technical knowledge.