Transparency Code Compliance
Parish councils have been obliged to comply with this code of practice since April 2015. NALC arranged to fund for those Parish Councils that could identify a need for either IT equipment or a website. The code was introduced to bring about a more transparent system of information for parishioners. At its basic level, the code stated that members of the public should be able to access a Parish Council website free of charge that contained the following information.
a. all items of expenditure above £100
b. end of year accounts
c. annual governance statement
d. internal audit report
e. list of councillor or member responsibilities
f. the details of public land and building assets
g. Minutes, agendas and meeting papers of formal meetings (within a month of the meeting, agendas no later than three days prior to the meeting to which they pertain)
Since 2014, we’ve worked with many Parish Councils as their website providers in order that they comply with the transparency code. With the help of many great clerks we’ve honed our system to be what we now believe to be the easiest to use website solution for Parish Councils.
Whilst some Parish Councils did in some sense comply with the transparency code, the worst was not over as the new data protection regulations, otherwise known as GDPR were introduced in May 2018.
Parish Council GDPR Compliance
We published a GDPR guide for Parish Councils in May 2018 in order to guide clerks around yet more regulations, the finer details of which were considered to have many grey areas.
In a nutshell, GDPR required that websites provided the following:
- A person can request to see all the details that you hold on them both in human and machine-readable format.
- A person can request that you delete all the personal data that is held by an organisation
- You need to state a valid reason for gathering and processing their data
- You need to ask for consent when you gather data
- You need to provide people with a way of withdrawing that consent at any time.
- You need to take precautions to protect personal data that you have gathered
With the advent of GDPR we upgraded our packages to include an SSL certificate as standard. This ensures that visitors to your Parish Council website will see a padlock and the word SECURE in the address bar. This ensures that any data that passes between the visitor and your website is encrypted and secure. Most search engines penalise those websites that aren’t displaying a current SSL certificate and HTTPS.
It’s astounding that the number of Parish websites out there aren’t complying with GDPR so many months down the line. It’s understandable that Parish councils meet infrequently and therefore any changes are implemented at a slower rate than one would expect in the private sector. Never the less, the fact remains that these regulations are a statutory requirement and therefore any Chairman worth his or her salt should now be pushing members to comply as soon as possible.
2019 brings with it even more regulatory changes, this time in the form of accessibility, namely the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard which came into effect in September 2018.
Accessibility Standards For Public Authority Websites
One in five people in the UK have a disability, it’s that statistic alone that illustrates the importance of ensuring that public authority websites provide access for those with a disability.
The standard states that a website should be accessible to as many people with disabilities as possible, this includes:
- impaired vision
- motor difficulties
- cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
- deafness or impaired hearing
Although this may sound daunting, the solution is relatively simple. Our websites already provide the basis of compliance in so far as they are responsive and display well on any device. A recent study shows that 40% of local authority websites failed basic accessibility tests.
A compliant website will allow someone with impaired vision to use a text reader that reads the content aloud. This means that any links that you have will be descriptive, instead of saying something like “click here” also, images need to have a description in the alt tag that will allow text readers to inform the user of what the image depicts. So, for instance, if you have published an image of the village green, the alt tag would say “image of the village green in summer”.
A common failure that we see on some Parish Council websites, particularly the older ones, is images of newsletters. Text readers can’t read text on an image and so the content is inaccessible. The standard requires any text in an image such as this to also include a text transcript.
Other considerations include ensuring that the colour choice and contrast allows the text to be easily read. For example, yellow text on a purple background is difficult to read whereas black text on a white background is much easier.
You must also publish an accessibility statement. This isn’t as daunting as it may sound, You can of course file for exemption by claiming that compliance would be a disproportionate burden. If you wish to go down this route you’d need to carry out an assessment. It’s highly unlikely that such a claim would be accepted as most modern website systems are designed to make compliance simple enough. Local authorities have until 23rd September to publish an accessibility statement on their website if the website was created on or after 23rd September 2018. If you website was created before that date then you have until 23rd September 2020 to comply.