Government Web Site Failure - Is It So Shocking?

Yesterday the BBC reported on a study released by Southampton University in the UK that found a 60% failure rate in UK government websites where standards compliance is concerned. Since that report on the BBC I’ve noticed a bit of commentary on it and received a few emails along the lines of "have you seen this?" from shocked individuals. The biggest shock for me is, frankly, that people are shocked and surprised at all.

The BBC report certainly highlights an important issue but it also blurs some important points when it says:

"Some 60% of UK government websites contain HTML errors"

Then it later quotes the author of the study as saying:

"Although 61% of sites do not comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guide, the 39% which do is encouraging."

Is the 60% failure figure one of HTML validation issues, as the first quotation above suggests, or is it a 60% failure in terms of accessibility pass/fail ratio? If it’s the latter, this is a little more worrying. As for the former, well, we all want the sites to use to validate, but with the general mush of various layers of in-house web development, outside agency involvement and hideously bad content management systems (CMSs), quite honestly I’d be amazed if the validation rate were anything even close to 40%.

For my money, this story tells me largely what I suspected about UK government sites (but couldn’t be bothered to go out and collate the figures for myself). The best part of the story, I think, is the finishing quote from an anonymous

’spokesman for the Cabinet Office’:

“One difficulty is that many authoring tools do not generate compliant HTML and make it difficult to edit the coding … This is an issue that the IT industry must address and we are working with them on that.”

It’s refreshing to see a government official correctly identify that the authoring tools are often to blame here (cough, ATAG, cough!) . But just who is ‘them’ in that sentence and who are the ‘we’ in that sentence (given that the source is unnamed). If you have any further light to shed on this story - specifically about what those figures actually relate to - and also what action is being alluded to towards the end, I’d love to find out (use the comments please).

This post has been cross-posted at - please add any comments there


Filed under: Accessibility
Posted by Ian on Friday, March 31, 2006

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