Public sector IT managers' association Socitm has launched a new service to help the public sector cope with the European cookie directive that became law in May.

The law requires all website owners to provide their visitors with an opportunity to give their consent prior to having cookies downloaded onto their computers or mobile devices. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has allowed all organisations one year to make the necessary changes to comply with the directive.

Socitm said simply removing cookies from websites risks "compromising web usefulness and usability" and is not a "realistic option for organisations looking to shift more services online".

The law makes it clear that website owners must be aware of all cookies on their site, whether set by them, or as is often the case, where they have been set by third parties.

In partnership with firm Cookie Reports, best practice publisher Socitm Insight has come up with what it calls an "affordable" shared service for organisations to be able to audit the cookies appearing on their main website.

They will also get advice on how they can inform the public about the cookies in ways that ensure compliance with the legislation. A monitoring service, integrated with an "active cookies page", will also offer visitors information to support informed choice about their continued use of the site.

Martin Greenwood, programme manager at Socitm Insight, said: "Without such guidance and support the directive could compromise the speed of digital development and the associated social and economic benefits.

"At a time when all public services are being encouraged to go 'digital by default' our partnership with Cookie Reports has allowed us to offer the sector a highly cost-effective response."

Cookie Reports has licensed the use of the Sitemorse engine and has subsequently built and now operates an online service for website cookie auditing, monitoring and reporting. Socitm Insight has had a long-standing relationship with Sitemorse for the provision of information about the technical resilience of public websites.

Last month Socitm welcomed the shared services recommendations of the McClelland Review of public sector ICT infrastructure in Scotland. Socitm pledged support for implementing the review's recommendations, which were published by the Scottish government on 21 June.