Parliament’s internet freeze: Westminster officials in ‘deadlock’ over online future

A redesign of the parliamentary website has been halted because of infighting among parliament's officials, it has emerged.

Management consultancy firm mySociety was brought in last year after what it called a "planning deadlock" developed within the walls of the Palace of Westminster.

Parliament's website is critical to democratic accountability, but some aspects of its design are now "increasingly dated", the firm said in its report.

It noted problems with the search feature, the 'find your MP' tool and a lack of 'responsive web design' which makes the site usable on a mobile or tablet.

"Expectations of what is normal on the internet change very fast," officials were told.

"What would have counted as an elegant, usable, interesting webpage just five years ago will now come across as clunky, unhelpful and perhaps hard or impossible to read on a smartphone or tablet (devices that did not exist until recently).

"Parliament's site needs updating, and bringing the site up to speed would require addressing a range of the following issues."

Two internal conflicts have prevented any progress, however.

The report identified tensions between the well-resourced intranet service and the relatively underfunded internet-focused team.

It also noted "a degree of tension" between the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

"Current structures have contributed to a planning impasse: parliament is currently lacking an agreed digital strategy due to a breakdown in negotiations between different internal bodies on the web policy board," the report added.

"The Houses have lacked an agreed digital plan for a considerable period because the board that is supposed to agree such decisions has been unable to agree, and there is nobody in a formal or informal position to break the deadlock."

A Commons spokesperson pointed out the report noted it has received positive feedback from members of the public about parliament's website.

But he conceded the inability of the Commons and Lords' management boards to agree on a way forward needs resolving.

A new internet supremo is now being recommended to resolve the slow-burning crisis.

Members of the public have until May 6th to comment on mySociety's proposal that parliament's two online branches are merged into a digital office headed by one person.

"With a single, appropriately skilled Head of Digital in charge of the services currently provided… we believe that a plan could be agreed quickly," the report said.

"We believe that a single figure would also be able to provide the reassurances that the House of Lords requires that their distinct voice and needs would not be ignored."

A spokesperson for mySociety said the company would not talk about its work because the report was "fundamentally a piece of work done for a client".