Styles or Gates.
My Council Services is an interesting little app designed to let people conveniently report issues with public services or the immediate environment to their local council. To use the service you have to register with your name, e-mail address and mobile phone number. In the UK, your details are held by public-sector IT …
I downloaded if after reading a review in the Guardian and reported an abandoned car a few streets away that had been rusting away for over a month. My local council - Ashfield - must use the Abavus system because I was able to track the progress of my complaint through the app and sure enough the car was gone the next week. I guess if the local power-that-be don't know somethings broke they can't fix it.
I think most councils do act on fault reports from the public - although they do have people whose job it is to go out and check on stuff, they don't have many of them and there's a lot of roads and street lights and other bits of stuff for which they have responsibility so it may take some time before it's spotted by that means.
I've reported faulty street lights and pot holes, which all get fixed, often within a week or two (having seen ones I didn't report go unfixed for months, I think it's reasonable to assume I had some effect). Even when a set of busy traffic lights decided to do their own thing, a report resulted in normal behaviour being restored within a day and an acknowledgement that there was indeed a glitch.
Councils do have some level of maintenance budget and I suspect they like to use it to fix the things that people notice and complain about because it makes them look good for doing something they ought to be doing anyway.
...mine took 10 months to fix a seriously dangerous load of potholes on the main road to my town that appeared after this winter.
It forced people to either ruin their cars by driving through them, or drive on the wrong side of the road - on a busy A road, that was narrow, and has a blind summit at the end of the potholes. Cycling the same road would have seen you getting sectioned for being f*ing insane.
It attracted 85 complaints within a month of the potholes occuring, most of which deemed the potholes 'dangerous'.
They are are now repaired, and a mere 3 weeks later, the repairs have started to fail already. Just in time for this winter...
There is a local pothole squad, I've even seen them out filling holes. Some of them only last a year, but I guess there's either an issue with the road structure with a water channel leading to subsidence, or it gets properly fixed next time they properly resurface the whole road.
The hard part is when reporting street lights because the numbers aren't easily visible from a car when you're driving, especially if it's off at night (which are now the more noticeable ones).
Perhaps what is required is some sort of NFC app that can read an ID transmitted by the post so you only need to get close enough. I guess a short term fix for pedestrian use would be a good barcode now that many smartphones can read them.
First of all - in the interests of transparency - I want to make it clear that I am directly involved in the My Council Services Project.
I was pleased to see this positive review of the Android version of the app. We received a similar positive review of the iPhone version via Guardian Consumer App of the Week in August this year. It is great to see the Android release getting picked up too.
A couple of additional comments. The app is free to use for anyone who downloads it. Any submission made is automatically routed to the correct UK authority. This is based on the location of the incident reported (using the GPS capabilities of the handset and some other back end spatial checking). The details of the report will be delivered to the relevant authority's customer services email address (with all the required details including images, location map etc). A Local Authority does not need to subscribe to receive notifications automatically. The service is nationally enabled.
Local Authorities can choose to subscribe to our service and this provides the ability to set up data integration and synchronisation with their selected CRM (web services). Additionally subscription provides the Council with access to a wide range of communications, mobile working, reporting and other value added functionality. I mention this just to clear up the - 'why are we doing this?' question.
I don't know about other Android tablets, but this app is marked as "not compatible" in the Android Market with my HP TouchPad+CyanogenMod 7 setup. If this applies to other Android tablets too, then perhaps it deserves an "epic fail" rating? I find it a bit difficult to believe that a government app on Android would only work on mobile phones and not tablets, so maybe it's something specific to the TouchPad (e.g. screen res etc.)?
Yet another useful-looking app that I'll never install because of unnecessary permission requests.
- Mount and unmount filesystems.
- Record audio.
- Take pictures and videos.
Why these are necessary for a glorified email forwarder, I don't know...
"- Take pictures and videos."
Presumably so you can provide evidence of the problem.
"- Mount and unmount filesystems."
Presumably so the stored images and videos won't take up application "data" internal memory and can be stored on SD card instead.
"- Record audio."
Perhaps so videos you record include audio?
I would hardly claim they're unnecessary permissions, at least for what the developer seems to want to do.
"- Take pictures and videos."
I made no assumption, as neither the app description or screenshots gave any hint of this.
However, BerniS' comment above does mention submitting images - so okay :)
"- Mount and unmount filesystems."
No, the "modify/delete SD card contents" permission it also requires gives access to the SD card - this one shouldn't be necessary, I think it's only used for mounting the SD card as USB mass storage when connected to a PC - this along with the "mock location sources for testing" permission makes me suspect it's just been left in from testing.
When it comes to giving unknown software rights to functions on the computer that is generally within 5m of me 24/7, I'm a lot less presumptuous - but then I am a cranky old git ;)
" I think it's only used for mounting the SD card as USB mass storage when connected to a PC - this along with the "mock location sources for testing" permission makes me suspect it's just been left in from testing."
You might be right there. Looks like an oversight, just like the lack of app2sd (or they didn't understand the Android docs which is unfortunately also quite common). Anyway it exactly doesn't fill me with confidence about the app.
fixmystreet.com have mobile appps for iPhone, Android and Nokia - they are part of mySociety.org
It would be interesting to compare the two offerings - I know the fixmystreet offerings automatically forward the reports to the relevant council.
"Can't hide behind a wall of anonymity" how stupid - of course they can, an email address can be obtained and I doubt that either it, the info provided (perhaps to hotmail) or even the mobile phone number are actually checked by a real person really phoning up... Thus all the info can be fake - and it is whenever I am filling in unnecessary detail demanded on various webforms.
"is the car taxed" - the DVLA are busy telling us no one can hide from their computers for tax or insurance... so thats a pointless question isn't it.
In fact, as the council will blindly ignore you just as much as they ignore everyone unless you don't pay your council tax makes the whole application a waste of time, effort, space on your phone, money.
Looks really interesting, but one of the potential options on one of the screenshots puzzles me.
Could some knowledgeable ElReg reader inform me of the correct protocol to establish the age of a dairy bull?
I mean I'd hate to be walking down the streets in my area of South East London and happen upon a dairy bull of indeterminate age that was blocking my way.
"Can't hide behind a wall of anonymity" how stupid - of course they can"
I think the author's point was that the account contact details give the council the opportunity to contact you to follow up on any serious complaints.
If they found the details, esp the phone number, were false I imagine they would not take the complaint forward and disregard it.
I've worked for a local council and complaints of a serious nature about an individual have to be made either to a police officer or a council representative in person and in writing so using this app would only be first step in the process.
You could always try fixmystreet, available for Jesus Phones, Android and Nokia. They are a charity who provide free (en_rms) | open source (en_esr) software, and all reports are publicly available on their website. I reported a few things to my council using it - bins not emptied, fly posting, broken traffic lights, and they fix the problem pretty promptly.
... fixmystreet don't provide back-end intergration to the systems that the Councils use for tracking these type of jobs. Where as MyCouncil do from what I understand from my District Council who have opted for the full intergration with these guys. What with all Councils trying to cut down on costs, new systems need to be intergrated front and back to lower the cost of administration, lower that cost and you have a valid reason for lowering staff costs or redeploying their day-to-day admin onto other tasks. Basically it's all about efficiency.
I posted the following message to their Support site:-
FYI this app fails to install on my phone with this message “Your device is not compatible with this item”
I have the HTC Desire and suspect this is because I have rooted the phone, replacing HTC Sense with the MIUI ROM which allows apps to be run from the SD card so as to free up internal RAM. You may want to consider modifying the app to facilitate this, thus allowing you to reach a larger technically literate audience. Thanks
... and got the following response:-
Thank you for your email. We cannot allow the app to be run from the SD card as it means anyone can have access to our control scripts which define how the program should look for each council.