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Blog: Phil Conran on why is a nightmare

Date: 10/07/2014 | Author: Phil Conran

Image for Blog: Phil Conran on why is a nightmare360 Environmental's Phil Conran discusses why finding information on is almost impossible for recycling and waste companies

GOV.UK. Five innocent letters that now strike terror into the heart of the waste community. The Government Digital Service – part of the Cabinet Office – has spent the last 3 years transferring all Government and quango websites to a standard format. An article on their blog site – which incidentally, does not follow the standard format – states that:

“We don’t just write the content for GOV.UK – we design it. This sounds simple, but they’re fundamental to the way we work: understanding user needs, designing content that meets those needs, and iterating to improve it in response to user feedback.”

And this seems to be much of the problem for technical users of the various sites, that the pages are not based on technical user needs but on perceived consumer needs.

For the general public, the site has transformed access. Gone are the myriad of different designs and functionality to be replaced by a standardised approach to search and use. A new passport, for instance, is now very easy to apply for.

This may well work for a new passport as the user knows exactly what they want. But for the waste industry which is used to being able to find what they need through navigation, it has come as a big shock. In the old days, if the EA had new guidance, they went to the section where it applied and added it in. Somebody wanting to know what their IED requirements were, for instance, could go to the Environmental Permitting section and navigate through to the IED section and any documents that had been uploaded.

Now, however, you can navigate through to the Environmental Permitting page, but there it stops. If you do a search on GOV.UK for IED, below the Excise Movement and Control system, you will find a reference to a list of IED Permits granted. You cannot drill further, you have to know what you want and do a search for a specific document. Not a huge amount of good if you don’t know what you are looking for.

The list of ‘gripes’ with the new system is extensive. Allegedly, they are delighted to get feedback and want to get ideas to improve the site. So far, after some weeks of dialogue, there is little sign of a willingness to change.

However, perhaps one of the biggest concerns is the way by which information is now disseminated. When the EA and Defra had control over their own websites, they could get announcements published rapidly and filtered to relevant criteria. Now, it seems that the difficulty in getting announcements onto the system leads either to Government officials resorting to twitter or to important guidance being held back. And when it is published, it just appears in a long list of environmental announcements along with documents that were published 5 years ago and then cannot be filtered by, for instance, waste or water.

Regulatory Position Statements seem to be considered unimportant by GDS and the EA now have to go through convoluted hoops to get a separate guidance document published. GDS seem to only want official Guidance incorporated into the text of their subject page. An example of that is the replacement for GN01 which provided very specific and detailed, downloadable and easily printable guidance in a single document into what was required of a packaging waste reprocessor or exporter to become accredited. GN01 is now dead. In its place is a page on the EA part of GOV.UK which is lengthy, laid out in a very basic but not particular technically user friendly way and which has incorporated some very important changes that are not specifically signposted. In the ‘old days’, the EA would have issued an updated version of GN01 on the packaging regulations page, would have pointed out the changes and would probably have issued supplementary guidance on how the changes should be interpreted.

In relation to publication, the change was implemented on GOV.UK on 9th May. No announcement, no fanfare. It was just there. The market only officially knew it was there when a senior Government official announced it on twitter some two weeks later and to this day, there has been no official announcement of what are some very significant changes.

Twitter appears to be the announcement medium of choice in Government circles these days. Whether that is policy or simply a reaction to GDS’s media control is hard to say, but is this really how the market should find out about regulatory change? Surely, Departments should be the ones that should decide what needs to be published and when and this should be driven by their ‘customer’ needs. The people who have to comply with the regulations, the people who have to deliver change, the people who have to manage the regulatory burden on the ground. Not by some faceless designers in a totally separate Government department who believe they know better what the user needs than the user. 

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