Multi-purpose and library apps prove popular for councils

Blog Bradford app

SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm’s In Our View magazine

Multi-purpose and library-specific apps appear to be the most popular provided by local authorities, according to data from Google’s Play store.

As of mid-August, at least 13 local authority apps had been installed more than 5,000 times through Google, with eight of them library service apps from Scottish technology company Solus.

Bradford City Council’s multi-purpose app, which covers areas including school closures, library renewals and job vacancies, and Glasgow City Council’s iTouch-designed MyGlasgow app for reporting environmental issues, had both been installed more than 10,000 times.

As well as those for libraries, multi-purpose apps designed by Cloud 9 for East Devon District Council and governmentM for Staffordshire County Council, as well as Boxsail’s Recycle for Greater Manchester app, had all been installed more than 5,000 times.

The 127 apps, provided by 105 local authorities, were found through keyword searches in the Google App store for the 50 largest UK local authorities and lists of apps from selected suppliers, so the data is indicative rather than comprehensive.

But many council apps appear to be little-used. Although 68 had been installed more than 1,000 times through Google, 47 had between 100 to 999 installations and 12 had been installed fewer than 100 times.

User ratings for apps varied widely, with five having average scores of less than two stars out of five, but 12 scoring four or above. Cardiff Council’s multi-purpose app, launched in June, was one of the most highly-rated, with an average score of 4.6.

A longer version of this article is in the new issue of Socitm’s In Our View magazine, available for download here.

Multi-purpose and library apps prove popular for councils

Friday roundup: A week in tech


Facebook et al are going to start receiving some eye-watering fines in the post if they don’t start clearing their wretched networks of terror content, pending the European Union’s plans.

Tired of terror-related carnage, the EU wants to force the likes of Twitter, Facebook…um, Geocities if it’s still going, to remove violent mischief within an hour of going live, or be penalised into oblivion.

By my count, this is the 453rdattempt by the authorities to deal with the big social networks’ crummy grip on terror content and other cyber atrocities.

According to Julian King, the UK’s security commissioner in Brussels, people are increasingly getting their instructions for terrorism over the internet – and digital material has had a part to play in every European attack in the past 18 months.

Speaking, rather than tweeting, thankfully, Mr King said: ‘We have got a problem with content; it is not an entirely new problem, we are not starting from scratch, we have agreed to do some voluntary stuff, and we got some good progress – but not enough.’

If the EU gets its legislative way, networks will also have to erect systems that automatically remove terror propaganda.

So, let’s wait and see how all that works out.


Already cuddling up nicely with government bosses in China, Google seems to be extending the goodwill towards the authorities in Moscow.

The search giant has scrubbed YouTube adverts by one Alexei Navalny, a big critic of Russian uber-boss Vladimir Putin.

According to Google, it removed the ads merely to act in accordance with the laws of the land, which decree that political campaigning in a no-no within 24 hours of an election.

My Navalny’s YouTube videos called for people to join protests against the government’s plans to change the age of retirement in Russia.

So, jolly nice of Google to stringently adhere to local rules, and coupled with last month’s news that the firm is building a special government-friendly search engine for China, one wonders what the company might do next. A digital marketplace for the Mexican Juarez drugs cartel? A bespoke photo-sharing hub for ISIS?


Yet again the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a firm’s broadband adverts for being full of fibs.

Complaints have been upheld that Vodafone’s recent irritating Martin Freeman-fronted campaign has been misleading customers, claiming as it does that the firm’s broadband service doesn’t suffer ‘drop-out’ like other providers.

However, the ASA has ruled that the claims can’t be substantiated and that consumers might interpret the ads as saying that broadband with Vodafone would mean an end to the ongoing curse of internet connections, buffering.

This is where it gets interesting: on its website, Vodafone claimed that its Ultimate Speed Guarantee ‘means you get the best broadband speed available to you, or we’ll give you a discount off your monthly bill until we can get you there’.

However, speed and ‘drop-out’ are two different things, as I can tell you from my own horrible experience at my house, where the internet is nice and fast – when it’s there at all.

Interestingly, one of those that complained about the unreliable ads was BT – and you know you’re doing something wrong as an ISP when they’ve got the moral high ground.

Vodafone has said that it’s ‘disappointed’ with the ruling (specially as they probably paid Mr Freeman £millions to star in their rubbish, now banned adverts) but here’s the rub: the ads ran for ages, so Vodafone got lots of publicity and, I assume, sales from the campaign, but all the ASA has done is prohibited further broadcast, which is what happens every time in these situations.

When are these firms going to start getting fined for lying?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech


Wacky racists managed to hack some mapping software this week and renamed New York as ‘Jewtropolis’, in a move that no doubt had Steve Bannon-esque types across the land splitting their sides in mirth.

‘Get-your-clothes-off’ enterprise Snapchat, one of several social media networks that use the software, is, understandably, appalled at the act of cyber vandalism, labelling it ‘deeply offensive’.

Speaking to the BBC, Snap said: ‘Snap Map, similar to other apps, relies on third-party mapping data from OpenStreetMap, which has been subject to vandalism. This defacement is deeply offensive and entirely contrary to our values. And we want to apologise to any members of our community who saw it.’

In unrelated but similarly ugly news, photo dumping ground Tumblr has decided to ban content that consists of ‘unwanted sexualisation or sexual harassment of others’ – which is very reasonable of it, don’t you think?

As we’re in late 2018, the social media firm is convinced that enough is enough, and so-called ‘creepshots’, ‘deepfake’ pornography, and ‘content that encourages or incites violence, or glorifies acts of violence’ will no longer be tolerated.

So, if you enjoy the sexual harassment, objectification and humiliation of others, and/or inciting hatred and violence, Tumblr may not be the place for you from now on. Why not try Twitter instead?

Oh internet, internet, internet – what is thou doing to us?


The increasingly unusual billionaire Elon Musk has reignited his strange ‘pedo’ feud with a British explorer.

After becoming entangled in, and, subsequently, somewhat humiliated by the summer’s Thai schoolboys trapped in a cave media sensation, Mr Musk decided to refer to diver Vernon Unsworth as a ‘pedo guy’ (over Twitter, naturally), after a submarine he’d offered to help with the rescue was declined.

Lacking any kind of evidence, and with Mr Unsworth threatening to sue, the Tesla boss deleted the tweets and apologised.

Yet it seems the rejection of his little submarine and Mr Unsworth’s mild rebukes still rankle, as Mr Musk has inexplicably reignited the daft mess by tweeting that ‘You don’t think it’s strange [Unsworth] hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services’ – clearly implying that he stands by his original unsubstantiated gibberish.

As a consequence of the last tedious Twitter exchange, Tesla’s shares nosedived – and now the firm’s boss is wilfully reopening the ridiculous wound.

Let’s look a little closer at this: Mr Musk owns and runs, amongst other things, a massive luxury electric car firm, a flippin’ space exploration division no less, and various energy producing outfits – and he still finds the time to go on Twitter, of all places, and childishly throw completely unfounded and horrific accusations around.

You always assume that people like Mr Musk are incredibly intelligent, wandering about with powerful minds, transcending into fields of thought far beyond the meagre mental zones the majority of us subsist in. And yet, having said all that, he kind of reminds me of Trigger from Only Fools and Horses.


Somebody’s had a great lightbulb moment – involving lightbulbs.

From tomorrow (1 September) halogen bulbs will be banned across Europe, as they’re phased out and replaced with infinitely more sensible LEDs.

A real no-brainer, halogens use five times the power of LEDs and have a fraction of the life expectancy (two years on average for halogen, 15-20 years for LED).

However, smart as the move is, it is being imposed by the HATED AND EVIL EU, which has stirred the ire of respected and prestigious political outfits such as UKIP, whose energy spokesman, Jonathan Bullock, frothed: ‘The EU’s attempt to ban halogen bulbs is wrong because consumers will suffer financially and it’s always the poorest who suffer most from these kinds of policies.’

Crazy as it might be to question the wisdom of UKIP, let’s have a look at the figures. Truly, LEDs are often more expensive than halogens, but the massively greater lifespan coupled with the much lower energy consumption means that customers will pretty quickly see large savings. (Plus, LEDs don’t heat up to the temperature of the sun like halogens.)

Furthermore, it’s not like you have to replace all of your halogens on 1 September – rather, you’ll slowly replace them one by one with LEDs as they burn out. (In fact, suppliers will be allowed to sell off the stocks they still have, so if you’re a big halogen fan you can snap up enough supplies to last perhaps decades.)

Anyhow, research (by the EU, I think) shows that a staggering 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions will be cut if and when a Europe-wide LED-halogen switch is completed – which is equivalent to Portugal’s entire yearly electricity usage.

I am now awaiting the Daily Mail’s certain ‘LEDs LINKED TO SOCIALISM AND HOMOSEXUALITY’ or similar headline.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Robot ready?


By the Orbis Robotics Team

Our last blog spoke about getting IT on board with our plans – and the potential benefits and pitfalls – but even with this additional resource and expertise, we were still missing something: our first robot that could do a whole process, not just part of it.

We were a couple of months into our robotics journey, and although we had moved at a tremendous pace (given the fact that this was all a very new venture and we had no training behind us) we were still expecting to have produced a robot that could essentially do the same process that one of our team members was currently responsible for. However, for various reasons, one had not yet materialised.

Attention turned from technology to the actual building of the robot. We had identified a key area with a backlog big enough to bring benefit by introducing said robot: teachers pensions. This was a very data input-heavy process that required days’ worth of human intervention for a couple of the team, but could potentially be done by a robot in about 20 minutes. No brainer!

Armed with numerous pots of caffeine and obscene amounts of biscuits, our lab workers set off on the onerous task of breaking the process down and replicating it. Productivity was rife and the lab were getting ever closer to the first process-overarching robot that had been so elusive. Could we actually pull this off?

A council who still used the odd paper process was now responsible for producing a robot, created by our own team members and not a team of experts, that would cost us large sums of money that we just didn’t have. We were so close, surely nothing was going to jeopardise us – oh, how wrong we were!  Hello, system freeze, how lovely of you to drop by!

We couldn’t believe it. It’s not often that we have a system freeze to allow for software to be updated, but now was that time. Okay, okay, so we should’ve probably done some research to see if this kind of thing needed to be included in our contingency planning, but, to be honest, we had been so full steam ahead with everything that we hadn’t really planned any allowance for contingency.

What were we thinking?! We were now going to be behind on timescales and we had removed individuals from their day-to-day job specifically to work on our robot, and we didn’t want to be wasting their time and resource. Do we send them back to their substantive teams only to disrupt the team further when the freeze lifts and we pull them back out to the lab?

Luckily for us, the freeze only lasted a couple of days and there was plenty of planning to be done, so our lab members stayed put and little time was wasted. However, we did need to be mindful that communication between all council activity should be improved to ensure this kind of thing didn’t happen again.

With everything back on track, it was full steam ahead and we quickly pushed to testing stage. Yes, yes, yes – our robot is almost here. Or is he??

Find out whether our robot actually made an appearance in next month’s blog.

Missed previous blogs about our journey into RPA?  Find them all here:

Robots Invade the Council

Can Robots and Employees Work Harmoniously?

Robot Process Automation (RPA) Without the Robots


Robot ready?

Friday roundup: A week in tech


Loads of stuff has happened this week – sadly, much of it’s terrible, but let’s plough on…

There’s a mystery Russian satellite on the loose, cruising through the sky and causing the Americans no end of consternation.

Alarmed US State Department assistant secretary Yleem Poblete told listeners at a Swiss conference that the enigmatic orbital object is displaying ‘very abnormal behaviour’, adding that it could be some kind of weapon.

True to form, the Russians have denounced the secretary’s observations as ‘unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions,’ which is more or less their standard response to the numerous international outrages they are accused of on a daily basis.

Ms Poblete groaned: ‘Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development.’

Indeed, the weaponisation of space would be a deeply troubling and unethical development – certainly, America would never dream of doing such a thing. Oh hang on – President Donald Trump recently announced plans to launch a new branch of the US armed forces into space, called ‘Space Force’. Looks like we’d better get used to ‘very abnormal behaviour’ in the sky, then.

Meanwhile, back in sleepy ol’ England, an MOD spokesman refused to commit to anything, lazily intoning: ‘The UK is working closely with international allies, including the US, to re-enforce responsible and safe behaviours in space and to build knowledge, understanding and resilience.’


Professional insanity-conjuror Alex Jones has finally been banned from Twitter – for a week.

The highly-strung conspiracy theorist has seen his works deleted from the likes of Facebook and Apple in recent weeks, with Twitter remaining the last major outlet for his divisive, completely fabricated smut.

But no more (for a week)! The cheerful would-be saviour of the white race crossed the social media network’s often blurry lines with a tweet that called on his followers to ready ‘battle rifles’ for a confrontation with America’s media.

Naturally, the abysmal state of affairs is connected in some way with President Donald Trump, who has also been heavily hinting that America’s currently free press should be…what…annihilated?

What a time to be alive.


Friendly old fax machines: they recall a simpler, happier, less online hatred-filled time, much like Ceefax – however, it turns out they could be the latest easy entry point for cyber villains! Is nothing sacred?

Security researchers have found that criminally-engineered image data sent via fax lines could be used to breach networks, as a consequence of many fax machines being part of printer/scanner combos.

Stunningly, fax has ‘no security measures built in – absolutely nothing,’ according to Yaniv Balmas, a security person from somewhere called Check Point software.

Though you don’t exactly come across it every day, it turns out that lots of firms still communicate through the ancient art of fax – meaning there’s a whole plum world for crooks to potentially exploit.

And one of those organisations still very much beholden to the fax is the NHS, which suffered devastating consequences from 2017’s WannaCry virus attack.

Apparently, the NHS has 9,000 active fax machines, so plenty to think about there.

Hey, do you remember back in the day when most companies printed a telephone and a fax number in their literature, and sometimes you’d accidentally ring the fax line and have to listen to all those strange noises? Good times.


Now on to the cheery subject of international censorship at the behest of a repressive regime. Writing tech news is so uplifting.

Google’s own staff are rebelling over the tech giant’s plans to build a special search engine for the Chinese government.

Hundreds of freedom-conscious employees have written to their own firm, claiming that the fishy project Dragonfly raises ‘urgent moral and ethical questions’.

It has been claimed that the service Google is working on will block websites and search terms that displease the Chinese authorities.

The letter mentions the famous ‘don’t be evil’ clause in Google’s code of conduct – but I always thought they meant that as a joke anyway; I mean, come on!

And the ethical rebellion may lead to results: earlier this year, angered staff protested against Google’s drone-building work with the Pentagon, which led to the firm ending its contract with the blowing-everything-up specialists.

Connivance with state repression! Maybe the next story will be happier?


Dear God, no.

Facebook has been hosting genocide-stoking hate material designed to encourage the slaughter of Myanmar’s Rohingya population.

An investigation by Reuters found some posts on the network calling for violence against the country’s Muslim minority that had been up for an incredible six years – despite Facebook’s own rules prohibiting ‘violent or dehumanising’ material against ethnic groups.

Posts included calls for Rohingya people to be shot, burned and fed to pigs, while one poster suggested that ‘We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews’.

According to the BBC, Facebook has now removed all the posts ‘discovered’ by Reuters. However, Facebook reckons it’s hard to keep up with the avalanche of hatred because its software struggles to interpret Burmese – which is an absolutely unspeakably pathetic and vile excuse. Aren’t they one of the richest firms in the world?

Meanwhile, over in India, WhatsApp (proprietor: Facebook) seems to be playing a big part in a series of ongoing mob-led hysterical executionsof innocent people.

Isn’t the internet great: How do you turn it off?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

TSB swells IT complaints team


Tech catastrophe-haunted outfit TSB is taking on a small army of complaint handlers – to deal with a large army of complainers.

The bungling bank has plans to employ an extra 250 customer service people in the wake of April’s IT systems failure, during which horrified users were barred access to their accounts and/or saw the account details of other customers.

And in July, the bank that likes to say ‘Oh no, everything’s gone wrong, turn it off and on again!’ suffered yet another service outage, bringing its complaint heap to an overtime-crunching 135,000.

TSB says it has ‘made a firm commitment that no customer will be left out of pocket,’ and has earmarked £30 million to help soothe customers.

So, reasonably good news if you’re planning on sending some complaints TSB’s way, as there’s a good chance someone will (probably) respond.

TSB swells IT complaints team

Government releases £millions for UK tech


The government that runs the UK has suddenly found a giant heap of steaming cash for ‘high-tech hubs’.

Announcing the £780 million bonanza, chancellor Philip Hammond claimed the money will help to create the technologies of tomorrow by bolstering Britain’s world-class researchers and entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, Mr Hammond ‘will expand “successful catapult centres” which are fuelling innovation across the country as part of the UK’s ambitious, modern Industrial Strategy’.

According to the government’s press release, from which every part of this story is taken, these ‘catapult centres’ have already led to the birth of ‘hundreds of new products, services and inventions’ such as a pollution sensor for buggies, and more-efficient aeroplane wings.

The £780m builds on £180m that prime minister Theresa May announced for ‘centres in the North East’ in July – bringing the total to nearly £1 billion.

Mr Hammond boasted: ‘We are working hard to build a stronger, fairer economy – dealing with the deficit, helping people into work, and cutting taxes for individuals and businesses. Unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s, our national debt is starting to fall, and the economy has grown every year since 2010 (all sic).’

Things sound pretty rosy, don’t they?

Anyway, that’s the gist of things. Here’s the government’s press release, which is absolutely packed with quotes by ministers, case studies and lots of details about how great the government is and how wonderfully well everything’s going in the UK. Enjoy!

Government releases £millions for UK tech