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More IT chaos at South Somerset

Over the past decade South Somerset District Council have been trying to persuade residents to use their website. Many offline services are no longer available. The council also spent millions of pounds on a failed transformation project. One of the key tasks of that project was to upgrade the IT systems.

This is a council that says of itself “Our Council has a proud reputation for going above and beyond“. It is not a reputation we have heard anyone apart from the Communications Team speak of.

“Going above and beyond” so much so that its offices were shut from 24 December to 4 January 2022. Tough if you needed the services of the proud council over Christmas and the New Year. Whilst many other councils were also closed for the same period, most don’t claim to have “a proud reputation for going above and beyond

Of course even with a two week shut down, a skeleton staff must surely have been present. What did this mean in practise? One resident phoned in to lodge a complaint about noise on 24 December. She was told by the lone receptionist that there were no staff available. She was also told the council had not had an out of hours environmental health officer for two years. Obviously all part of going “above and beyond” for the residents of South Somerset.

However over the Christmas period the website has also been misbehaving, and this continued this week.

Yesterday we learned the council had acknowledged experiencing significant IT performance issues this week. The main issues were around the public facing end of the council’s website. We can vouch for this. Our own attempts to use the website have been routinely thwarted by slow pages or pages that simply refuse to load. However apparently the response of the website in other areas has been poor. For instance when trying to access services such as payments, and planning applications. The council have acknowledged internally that some attempted transactions have been abandoned.

Belatedly on 7 January Councillors were briefed on what was going on. They were told that the situation has had an adverse effect on public and SSDC staff using the website. Service Delivery teams have been particularly hit in trying to perform tasks.

The council have not attempted to get the message out to the public via the press. Not so much as a whiff of a press release after four days of online chaos. Maybe the council has a “proud reputation” for a reason. That being that when things go wrong it prefers not to tell people. And bear in mind it took from 21 December to 7 January to get around to telling councillors.

Of course a council that has abandoned all other forms of communication is stuck. If the website doesn’t work, what can you do? Put a banner up on the website?

So what has gone wrong? Is there any point asking an authority that prides itself on covering up the truth? Well this is what we have discovered. The issues only came to light when staff returned to work on 04 January. That’s not our view. It is the view of SSDC’s Lead Specialist for Digital Change.

This really is astonishing. The website that is the only way of contacting the council for most services. Was nobody at all on duty monitoring the website? Or were they on duty and didn’t notice?

The root cause seems to have been a software upgrade that was implemented on 21 December. The system software is provided by Civica. It may be the system has now been fixed. But it still seems to us inexplicable that the council was unaware of a significant problem for 2 weeks.

There are only two possible conclusions. Either the site was not monitored or it was monitored ineffectively. Neither answer will leave South Somerset residents with a warm glowing feeling.

21 Comments

  1. Graham Livings Reply

    “AD NAUSEAM” 2022!

    It further exposes a ‘deficiency’ in the ‘elected’ member’ per se. Local Councillors are elected by the community to decide how the council should carry out its various activities. They represent public interest as well as individuals living within the ward in which he or she has been elected to serve a term of office. Councillors have regular contact with the general public through council meetings, telephone calls or surgeries. Councillors are not paid a salary for their work, but they do receive allowances. All members of the Council are required to complete a register of interest’s form. South Somerset District Council is made up of 60 locally elected members – 40 Liberal Democrats, 14 Conservatives, 5 Independents and

    1 Green (as at 6 May 2020).
    Our Leader and Chairman
    Council Leader: Cllr Val Keitch (from 01/09/2018).
    Council Chairman: Cllr Paul Maxwell. Vice Chairman: Cllr Wes Read.
    Leader of the Opposition (Conservative Party): Cllr Linda Vijeh.
    Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party: Cllr Nick Colbert.
    Leader of the Independents: Cllr Dave Bulmer.

    Surely one of sixty member an ‘agenda-item’ by ‘resolution’ presumably a concern of Somerset’s ‘nine’ MPs?

    The writer sometime Chairman, Administration & Finance Committee, the adjoining Local Authority of Mendip, during the ’emergent’ Ashdown ‘renaissance’ subsequently withered on the vine!

    Graham E Livings
    sometime 611th Mayor of Wells/Prospective Parliamentary Candidate; YEOVIL
    *BURNING THE BOOKS: 1SBN 978 1529378 76 4 Richard Ovenden

      1. Martin R Cooke Reply

        It was good to hear Andrew Lee Editor of The Leveller, speaking on http://www.gfm.org.uk with Alan Philpot between 9am – 10am
        Speaking about council issues in The Midsomerset area
        Hopefully people will use the Listen Again feature

  2. Richard Harbord Reply

    The section for reporting potholes has been intermittently not working for months and each time I report it to a person I get an apology but it still is “flaky”

      1. nemisisbenn Reply

        Just to say that I used online reporting for a pothole today and there was an acknowledgement within moments. I don’t plan on going that way for three or four weeks – as soon as I do I’ll update.

    1. Peter Seib Reply

      Graham, you don’t seem to grasp the notion that everyone is equal before the law. And that everyone has the same rights. If you have an issue with what those rights are, I suggest you speak to your MP about changing them … if you can get hold of him.

      1. nemesisnemesia Reply

        You can rely on a LibDem councillor to come up with a non-sequitur in response to a perfectly reasonable comment.

  3. Bas Reply

    How gormless to install a patch on 21st December and then take two weeks off without checking that it works. Why not install it and give it two weeks running time just to make sure? As a reward the SSDC ‘child’ should be deprived of all internet services for two weeks and see how they/he/she/it cope.

  4. DisappointedRog Reply

    How is this actually a news story? The Leveller is really grasping at straws if they think this is news worthy content and it is absolutely absurd to think a business, let alone a council, should issue a press release about a website experiencing technical difficulties. This paper really is circling the drain and click bait articles such as this really does not help.

    1. Andrew Lee Reply

      If you think the Leveller doesn’t have newsworthy stories, why read it?
      Obviously if you think a public authority website being non functional for nearly 3 weeks is not a news story you are of course welcome to your view. Anyone should respect the right of others to have a different view.
      However saying that businesses do not put out releases about this sort of thing is simply wrong. For instance on 5 October 2021 Facebook apologised after an outage of just 6 hours. In an almost identical situation to that of SSDC, Akamai Tech apologised for outages in a public statement in July last year.

      1. DisappointedRog Reply

        I’m sorry but comparing a local authority website to Facebook is ridiculous and frankly embarrassing. Whilst I respect your view I’m disappointed to see the leveller heading in its current direction after being a keen reader over a number of years. I hope to see it turn a more positive corner this year. Indeed, why read it if I feel this way but why write when criticism cannot be accepted.

        1. Andrew Lee Reply

          If we wanted to we could simply delete your comment. The fact we didn’t is indicative that we want others to read it and to debate the issue.
          We agree that Facebook and SSDC are in different spheres. Facebook is largely fun and delivers no vital services. It chose to apologise. SSDC is a public authority paid for out of the public purse. It does deliver vital services including to the homeless. It chose not to apologise or to let the public at large know it was struggling.
          From the very beginning The Leveller has existed to hold those in authority to account. It is what it does. It is what it will continue to do. It does not choose political sides. The Conservatives at SCC find us as tough on them as the LibDems at SSDC. I’m afraid that The Leveller is not going to change doing what it has always done.

    2. nemesisnemesia Reply

      Yes it is a news story, and one can only imagine the huge frustration felt by the residents affected by the inability to get hold of someone at the Council to deal with an urgent problem relating to noise, pollution or planning enforcement. I can only conclude you are a staunch LibDem supporter or one of its councillors.

      1. DisappointedRog Reply

        No, just a disappointed reader finally speaking up. From reading your comments I conclude you are a keen conspiracy theorist.

  5. nemesisnemesia Reply

    No wonder Alex Parmley went off to New Zealand, as far away as he could get to escape the fallout. Why choose a new and untried system in the first place? What were the incentives on offer to do so? The whole fiasco needs to be independently investigated. Incidentally, it is really difficult to find out who actually owns Civica. There are several holding companies and trusts involved, all very strange. What is known is that the best paid director earned well in excess of £500k in the 2020 financial year.

    Personally I wonder why people keep electing the LibDems when they have been demonstrably incompetent and worse for so long. The majority of residents voted for them when the remedy was in their own hands to get rid of them. I look forward to finding out who was sacked and why!

  6. South Somerset District Council Reply

    Thank you for posting on this issue. I think it’s important to note a few points. We would like to apologise to anyone who has experienced any issues accessing our website or online service. Contrary to the article, we have been posting daily public messages on this issue to update residents on any problems and which services are affected. We also briefed members so that they could respond to any constituents who had concerns and our Customer Connect team has been picking up any issues through our phonelines, customer contact forms and social media. You post did highlight that a Facebook post had not been issued as scheduled and this has now been rectified. The council is not closed over the Christmas period but does, in line with all other local authorities, operate on a reduced staffing level which affects some services but we will respond to emergencies. Our IT team has been working on intermittent issues over the Christmas period and accelerated this work when more significant issues emerged this week. We are confident that all technical problems have now been resolved but will shortly be issuing a new contact form for any residents continuing to experience issues.

  7. Graham Livings Reply

    “Nunc Dimittus” 2022!

    Re-enacted in the former Magistrates Court, Wells Town Hall, 1984: Nigel Pascoe QC, in the presence of The High Sheriff of Somerset, on behalf of Victims Support, Somerset, the writer sometime ‘trustee’.

    “In September 1667 Penn was arrested for the first time, at a meeting of Friends. The mayor, noticing his aristocratic dress, offered to free him on his promise to behave; but the 23-year-old refused and was sent to prison with eighteen others. Penn wrote that religion was his crime and made him a prisoner to a mayor’s malice, but at the same time it made him a free man.
    Penn became an active promoter of Quaker ideas by writing numerous pamphlets. After he wrote “The Sandy Foundation Shaken” to refute the doctrines of the trinity and the eternal damnation of souls, he was put in prison again, not for his ideas but because he had no license from the bishop of London. Penn wrote “Inncency with her Open Face” and was released. Also while in the Tower of London he wrote his most famous book, No Cross, No Crown.

    In 1670 Penn and William Meade were arrested in Gracechurch Street, London, for preaching. The recently passed Conventicle Act forbade gatherings for worship of more than 5 people, apart from for services of the Church of England. In the trial the prisoners appeared before twelve judges and twelve jurors. Penn challenged the legality of the indictment and would not plead without seeing a written copy; since this was not given, he pleaded not guilty. The next day the prisoners were fined forty marks for failing to remove their hats. Penn cited Coke on common law and the rights in the Great Charter (Magna Carta). Despite these arguments, the recorder charged the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. Four jurors dissented, and they were sent back to rethink their verdict. The jury then found Penn and the others guilty of “speaking in the street”, but refused to add the words “in an unlawful assembly”. The magistrates refused to accept this, and ordered the jury to be “locked up without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco”, while Penn called to them not to give up their rights as Englishmen.

    The charge that unarmed worshippers had riotously broken the peace was absurd. Yet the result was that Penn and all twelve of the jury were sent to prison. Someone, probably Penn’s father, paid the fines, and they were discharged.

    The jurors, released on a writ of habeas corpus, sued the mayor and recorder, winning their case before the Court of Common Pleas in a historic decision that conceded that judges “may try to open the eyes of the jurors, but not to lead them by the nose.” Penn wrote a further pamphlet with an appendix citing numerous precedents since the Magna Carta of 1215.

    This Penn-Meade trial became famous and showed that the arbitrary and oppressive proceedings of the courts badly needed reform. It is a precedent to this day.

    Again the next year Mayor Starling had Penn arrested for preaching without taking an oath, even though the Conventicle Act requiring this was only for those in holy orders, which Penn was not. He was sent to Newgate prison for six months and occupied his time writing more pamphlets. He also sent a protest to the sheriffs of London about prison conditions and an address to Parliament against the Conventicle Act.

    In 1673 Penn went to court to secure a writ of habeas corpus to release George Fox from Worcester prison. Fox had been in prison for more than a year; but Judge Matthew Hale found so many errors in the indictment that he discharged Fox. Probably because of Penn’s influence with the last two Stuart kings, Fox was never arrested again. Penn wrote “A Treatise of Oaths” in 1675 so that Quakers would not be imprisoned for refusing to take an oath of allegiance or to swear in court. He cited 122 authorities from Pythagoras to William of Orange on the folly of exacting oaths.

    Penn’s many pamphlets arguing for religious tolerance such as “The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Debated,” “Examination of Liberty Spiritual,” and “A Persuasive to Moderation” finally bore fruit in 1689 when the Toleration Act was passed. Many believed that his writings brought about the release of 1300 Quakers from jail.”

    Graham E Livings, Lilliput, Upper Milton, Wells.BA5 3AH

    sometime 611th Mayor of Wells

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