Half of emails to Cork City Council go unanswered

An overhaul of Cork City Council’s website is underway, after a Green Party member’s review found that almost half of emails sent to displayed addresses went unanswered and more than half of its links were broken.

Half of emails to Cork City Council go unanswered

A council spokeswoman said the overhaul, which will involve consultation with external stakeholders, will review how emails are handled, and will provide a more customer- and business-focused interface.

Green Party member, Oliver Moran, a software engineer, reviewed the corkcity.ie site.

Using a pseudonym, Moran, the party’s Cork North Central representative, sent an email to every department listed on the website’s ‘Contact Us’ page. The email asked the best way for the public to contact the department — by phone or by email.

Four weeks later, out of 31 departments emailed, only 17 had responded — a 55% rate.

Among the departments that didn’t respond were the Access Officer, the Freedom of Information Officer, and the Housing Office. The Lord Mayor’s email returned saying the inbox was full. The email provided for the council’s Information Services returned with a technical error.

Mr Moran also performed an automated check of the corkcity.ie website. This found that 54% of the links were broken — 108,977 out of 200,001. The broken links included the parking.corkcity.ie website, the community directory, links to severe weather warnings, and information on public transport, on swimming pools, parks, and sports facilities.

Mr Moran said he ran the check after becoming concerned about the website’s effectiveness: “Often, when I clicked a link to download a document or a form, it was missing. Residents I’ve been speaking to have told me they find it hard to get a response from the city council, too.

“So, I wanted to try and get an objective sense of how bad the situation is. Even essential practical information for the day-to-day work of the council, like how to make an appeal against a planning decision, is linked on the website, but missing when you click it.”

The party’s spokesperson on political reform said this isn’t just a nuisance for citizens — it affects democracy: “Ireland lags behind the UK and other English-speaking countries, when it comes to e-government.

“More and more people want to be able to deal with local and national government in a convenient way over the internet. Ireland has actually gone backwards in this area, since 10 years ago.

“In 2008, we were ranked 19th worldwide by the United Nations on e-government. Last year, we were 26th. The UK is number one,” Mr Moran said.

The spokeswoman for City Hall said the council website is being overhauled: “A proactive approach towards site content and quality management has been incorporated into the requirements of the project, which will include ongoing assessment of links, expired content, contacts, and distribution lists.”

She said the ‘Contact Us’ addresses on the website send emails to a distribution list manned by two or more staff members.

If one is on leave or out of the office, and their mailbox becomes full, an email may be automatically sent, stating that the person cannot receive the mail.

“However the other members of the distribution list receive the mail and respond to the query,” she said.

She said 145 Freedom of Information requests have been received this year, with an increasing number received by email at the foi@corkcity.ie address. This email address is monitored and all valid FOI requests are acknowledged and processed, she said.

The council gets about six million emails annually, with the vast majority directed to specific staff, and less than 1% going to generic email addresses: “As part of a wider communications overhaul, we are reviewing procedures around emails that arrive to these common email accounts.”

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