South Ribble and Chorley councils are teaming up to get new-look websites for the two authorities.
Both councils’ cabinets have given the go-ahead to commission the redesigned sites which they say must be “easy to use, accessible and secure”.
It is expected that the new portals will operate alongside the existing sites from April 2020, before going fully live the following September.
Papers presented to South Ribble’s cabinet said that a key aim of the project was to increase residents’ engagement with digitally-delivered services.
“Our website dates from the 90s and was given to us as a free template – and even as a member, it’s almost impossible for me to navigate it to find what I want,” cabinet member for finance, Matthew Tomlinson, said.
“When the public go online and can’t find something, they ring up or come in – and that takes up staff time.”
Council leader Paul Foster described the current site as “appalling” and Liberal Democrat group leader David Howarth added that “anybody who had ever tried to look at a planning application” on the council’s website would support the proposed changes.
It is estimated that the set-up and annual support and licensing costs for the sites will be in the region of £100,000 over three years, split equally between the two neighbouring Central Lancashire authorities.
Chorley Council discussed the issue in a private part of its cabinet meeting, but Peter Wilson, deputy leader of the authority, later said: “The joint working on the website is a good example of us working together on projects that will help provide better value for money for residents.
“We’ll both have a separate website with a different look, but the system used to manage it will be shared across both authorities,” Cllr Wilson added.
The new sites will have a single content management system and the same template design – but neither authority will have access to update the site belonging to the other.
The contract will be awarded based on criteria including functionality, security and cost.
The successful bidder could be known as soon as next month, after the councils agreed to waive normal tendering rules and instead negotiate directly with shortlisted providers, after carrying out “soft market testing”.
Opposition councillors on South Ribble claimed that there was no justification for the move, with Conservative group leader Margaret Smith saying that there was “no emergency” to merit it.
South Ribble’s legal services manager, Dave Whelan, said that the authorities were still talking to more than one potential provider and so there was “still a degree of competition”.
Gary Hall, chief executive of Chorley Council and interim chief executive at South Ribble, said the identities of the shortlisted bidders would be published after the contract was awarded.