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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Making the Summer 2015 Budget accessible

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Best practice

For the first time on GOV.UK, we published the Budget as a web page. We know that publications work better as HTML publications rather than PDFs. They’re better for search, better for mobile and comply with open standards.

Let’s HTML the thing

The Budget sets out the chancellor’s spending plans for the year with a proposal for how the government will pay for them. It’s the most important document the government publishes - and the biggest event in HM Treasury’s calendar.

Changes to things like wages, tax, benefits and pensions are outlined for citizens and businesses.

So how can GOV.UK users find out what’s happening?

A few thousand copies of the Budget statement are printed for the press and for ministers. If you want to view it online you’re looking at over 120 pages of PDF. If you’re on a tablet or smartphone, forget it. You won’t find what you need in a huge document of tiny text that you can’t navigate through.

Google Analytics tells us that 24% of the 133,043 page views of the Budget publication page are from a mobile device. This year, 68% of users who got to this page chose to view the HTML publication.

Users could also read the announcements in plain English, thanks to GDS content designer Jane Eastwood working closely with HM Treasury (HMT).

Building our relationship with HMT

We worked very closely with our colleagues at HMT to plan and produce the publication. We explained the benefits of the new format and HMT policy staff were open to improving accessibility.

We had regular meetings with the digital communications team at HMT. We ran mock sessions to estimate how long it would take to convert the InDesign files used to create the PDF into the ‘Markdown’ code we use on GOV.UK. We wrote lists of everything we could think of that could go wrong, from a Wifi and security pass fail, to Whitehall Publisher downtime.

We found the project was a great way of getting to know more about GDS, simply because we had more face-to-face chats. We learnt more about each other's organisations in an informal way.

Kylie Clark, Digital Communications team at HM Treasury

We worked all night to get it to you

We started work at 10pm the night before and formatted or uploaded a mammoth 12 tables, 25 charts, 99 footnotes and over 40,000 words from InDesign to Markdown.

We felt the pressure but the adrenaline kicked in. We worked through the night to meet the 7am deadline, which was tough. It’s a testament to the working culture at GDS and the content design team that we were as focused on supporting each other through the process as we were on building the publication.

Knowing that we were helping users to easily access and digest the information made it a rewarding project. It certainly helped when we left Whitehall bleary eyed at 11am.

User feedback

We had some positive feedback from Twitter:

Pretty cool that @GOVUK published the Budget in HTML, it's the first step in publishing a document *of* the web, rather than *on* the web.

Publishing the Budget in HTML can’t have been easy. Kudos. 2 mins to figure out the Corp Tax changes with some Cmd+Fing.

What's next

We’re analysing the data to better understand how users interact with the Budget and what needs they have of it. We’ll be working more with HMT to refine user journeys and to iterate and improve what we do for the Autumn Statement and future Budgets. Onwards!

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  1. Comment by Simon Howard posted on

    It's curious that you say the budget is "the most important document the government publishes"

    Surely "importance" is highly subjective? If I'm trying to lead a serious health protection incident, the expert Government advice on what to do is probably more "important" to me and the citizens in my area at that moment than the budget.

    If I've a relative caught up in foreign unrest, pages about consular assistance are probably more "important" than the budget.

    The Budget is only created as a result of election results - so why are the results not more "important"?

    And, frankly, if I'm trying to renew my car tax, that page is more "important" than the budget.

    It sounds like you've been sucked into a Governmental/Political view of the world when you describe the importance of documents from a narrow Whitehall viewpoint than from the point of view of the end users you serve.

    But congratulations on the actual project - it's great to see process being made on this sort of publishing. I guess the next step is true "digital by default" - making the canonical version the HTML version rather than the bound budget book, and redirect MPs and Ministers who want bound copies to the site.

    There are also still some unresolved navigation issues. If I'm in a meeting, and want to jump from discussing the opening paragraph of section 4.1 to the 'personal tax' paragraph of 6.3, there's no easy way for people to reach that section. We'd use page numbers in printed copies - there's no equivalent "quick reference chunking" of the HTML version, and I think that needs to be thought through.

    • Replies to Simon Howard>

      Comment by Chris Moore MBE posted on

      Perhaps the budget is quoted as the most important document because it is the most visited?

      Anyway, that isn't really the point of the article. What is important is that this will hopefully kill the PDF off for all the reasons mentioned in this blog. Ever tried to navigate a PDF document with a screen reader on the Mac or iPhone? Adobe never got around to adding screen reader support to Adobe Reader on the Mac and it is not much better on iOS. Apple don't tag documents when the user saves them as a PDF on OS X. Screen reader users can't complete PDF forms on non-Windows devices either. Fortunately HMRC are currently converting all their forms into HTML 5 and hopefully other government departments will follow their lead.

      In the past, I have worked in web publishing where there was no choice but to publish content as a PDF due to tight deadlines. There were always promises later that the documents would be made accessible, but it rarely happened. What GDS have proven is that you can take a high profile piece of work with very tight deadlines and still produce the content in HTML, which brings more benefits than just accessibility. So if this can be done with the budget, then there is very little excuse for others not to publish in HTML.

      I accept your point around paragraph navigation, but this could be tackled by using table of contents for longer documents and inline searching and bookmarking. This will become less of a problem when we do reach digital by default and write for the web and stop publishing onto the web.

      As someone who is deaf and blind, I find it extremely frustrating when you reach a stub that tells you that the document may not be suitable for assistive technology and that you can asks for it in an alternative format. Why should I? Stop being so lazy and make is accessible in the first place; it benefits everyone.

      Keep up the good work GDS 🙂

  2. Comment by Kirsty Edwards (IPO) posted on

    Sounds like a good project to be a part of. Well done of the delivery.

  3. Comment by Tim Blackwell posted on

    The 68% figure is likely to be highly weighted towards people dipping into the budget rather than reading it in detail. People who have downloaded the PDF are very likely looking at it several times without this registering at .GOV.UK.

    And PDF still has its advantages, though these advantages are not those generally touted for it.

    It's much easier to take ownership of a PDF than a webpage. Once in my possession, the government can't generally amend, rescind, or repudiate it (despite Adobe's ever more implausible efforts to extend and compromise the format). I can keep it securely for future reference. I can compare it (not brilliantly) with earlier versions. It's often easier to search - yes really) .

    Government should be able to construct a much better web-based publishing format than PDF - one with enforced immutability, versioning, differencing and signing etc. But until it does, the PDF remains a regrettable stopgap solution.

    I wouldn't want the PDF to be