The launch of Birmingham City Council’s new website, which was supposed to make it easier for people to pay bills and keep track of council tax payments, has been delayed by months after red-faced officials discovered the new system refused to recognise pound signs.
Quotation marks, apostrophes and Euro signs were also missing when the updated version of www.birmingham.gov.uk was switched on.
Council bosses are arguing with installers Service Birmingham, led by private outsourcing firm Capita, about who picks up the bill to fix the errors.
And the council has admitted it doesn’t know exactly how much has already been spent on attempting to install the new IT.
A spokesman said: “There are figures, but they come from different budgets and we can’t get them worked out today.”
The glitch is deeply embarrassing for the city, which says its business transformation scheme can save up to £1 billion largely through better IT systems.
The new website is critical in delivering the Customer First project, which will allow anyone in Birmingham with access to a broadband computer to have a personal account with the council – enabling bills to be paid and requests for services to be logged on-line.
Deputy city council leader Paul Tilsley said the delay in switching on the new system was caused by “teething problems”.
The website was supposed to go live in April, but will not now be up and running until the beginning of next month.
Coun Tilsley (Lib Dem Sheldon) said: “This is a huge project and we don’t want to go live if it’s not right. Obviously I don’t like delays but it is better to get it in a fit state than to put it on-line and then suffer problems.”
Coun Tilsley said he was confident the new system would be one of the best in the country and that the council might be able to sell the technology to other public sector organisations wishing to upgrade their websites.
Glyn Evans, corporate director of business change, said transferring 10,000 pages of information from the old website to the new one was problematic.
He added: “A number of functional defects and performance problems have been identified and are currently being addressed and indeed, most are now being resolved.”
A city council spokesman said: "During the migration, where the pages are moved from the old council website to the new website, a bug in the process meant that some characters within the copy on the pages were omitted.
"All of the pages on the new website have therefore had to be reviewed and amended and this has obviously caused some delays.
"However, this checking process will mean that when the new site goes live, which is currently anticipated for the end of July/ the first week in August, this issue will have been resolved.
"The revamped council website will, in time, revolutionise the on-line service that we offer to those that live in, work in and visit Birmingham as the current website technology is obsolete.
"Initial improvements benefiting the web user will include enhanced disability access, a better search facility based on Google technology and an ability to instantly add details of events and contact numbers to electronic diaries.
"Technologically the new web platform is much better than the previous one - allowing us to add features such as RSS feeds and GIS mapping in the future.
"The website will also support business transformation's Customer First programme, which is set to give all citizens a personal account on-line where they will be able to monitor and track customer enquiries."
It’s the second time recently that the council has suffered embarrassing IT problems.
Installation by Service Birmingham of the Voyager system for electronically paying bills led to a backlog of 30,000 unpaid invoices, resulting in some small traders threatening the council with bailiffs.