Sep 2009 10

Well the long-awaited and massively over budget Birmingham City Council website was launched this week and went down like an absolute lead balloon with local experts who believe that, once again, taxpayers have been fiddled out of £2.8million for a completely substandard facility.

BCC website Back at the beginning of August the WMTPA were asked what we thought about the fact the original estimate for the website (back in 2005!!) was £580,000 – still a hefty sum, but little did we know at that stage that the project would not only be costly, but extremely controversial as far as it’s effectiveness is concerned.

Clive Reeves, PR director at Ward Lovett, said:

“This looks like a project that’s been controlled by a committee made up of people who don’t quite know what they’re looking for, what’s achievable, or even what they really want.
“I’d like to be shocked by the new website, but I’m afraid disappointed indifference is all I can muster. I’m wondering how much more council tax payers’ money it will take to put it right.”
(Birmingham Post)

This wasn’t even the worst of the criticism, according to the Post:

Jake Grimley, managing director of Birmingham web designers Made Media, described the website as an “abomination”.
Mr Grimley added: “The website is absolutely littered with beginner’s mistakes. And content from the old website appears to just have been cut and pasted in with no quality checking whatsoever.”

Of course, the council were quick to bat-off such remarks, claiming that the site was designed to be suitable for users, not the ‘twitterati’, by which we can only assume they mean ‘this is a site for people who haven’t a clue, not people who might know how a website is supposed to be built or look’.  Only a local government officer could brazenly claim that a £2.8m provision wasn’t supposed to impress industry experts…

And as if Glynn Evans – the officer in question – couldn’t get any more audacious, when it was pointed out to him that website users (suspiciously) couldn’t find a direct link to council agendas or lists of meetings, he simply remarked that residents aren’t particularly interested in council meetings!

Glynn obviously likes sweeping generalisations, but he should really make allowances for the fact that it’s our right to have easy access to such documents – especially on a supposedly ‘all singing, all dancing’ website we’ve paid for. And it’s not for him to judge whether such information is of interest – most people couldn’t care less about the ingredients on the back of food packets but they’d soon have something to say if there weren’t any or they found it impossible to discover what their meal contained. Sometimes there’s comfort in knowing that there are easily negotiable channels that lead us to reliable information, if ever we should need it.

Glynn’s parting shot was another corker, as he hands-up admitted that the website isn’t world class. Hang on, a £2.8m website that has taken literally years to construct isn’t world class? How much does a world class one cost then? Billions?! And if we’re to believe all the boastful publicity we’ve paid to have papered around this city, and the protestations of Cllr Mike Whitby, isn’t Birmingham a world class city? "A Global City with a Local Heart"?

 Well if it is, according to this feedback, it’s a global city with a pretty crummy website…

  • Kevin

    This site looks like it should have cost a few grand at most. How could it possibly cost £2.8 million? Someone somewhere has made an absolute fortune out of this. Who are the people behind it?

  • Steve

    I daresay Advantage West Midlands had something to do with it. Wherever and whenever they are involved, a lot of public money always seems to be needlessly spent.

  • Rob Wood

    This is why we must stop politicians from only being politicians, and let them have outside interests and jobs. Professional poiliticians. Without this they have no idea what is going on in the real world.
    They even start acting like employees and nick the odd pencil, a few sheets of paper, my god think about it they may even put in a couple of dodgy expense claims!!!!!

  • Junican

    This is just another example of semi-quangos have no idea what they are doing. One might ask individaual members of this semi-quango this question: “If the web-page was your own, personal web-page and the funds to pay for it were your own funds, would you pay £2 million for what is, essentially a pretty brochure?”
    Another organisation which needs to be terminated forthwith.

  • Clifford Singer

    To answer Kevin’s question, Capita were behind the site – and it is a serious omission that the above article doesn’t say this.
    For a more informed critique see Paul Canning:
    His conclusion:
    “Local government webbies did not cause this (as Stuart Harrison points out) and would not have made the series of bad decisions which led to the ship hitting the iceberg. Why? Because they’re professional webbies and know what the heck they are doing.
    “This project was not run by them, it was outsourced by non-webbies to a company which is not about the web and doesn’t live to build brilliant websites and which operates in an uncompetitive environment. Put simply, organisations like Crapita can get away with this and move on to the next excess and profits binge.”

  • paul canning

    Another point from my blog post:
    local government website disasters know no party – all of them are responsible somewhere in the country for crap websites. In Birmingham it was Tories and LibDems, elsewhere it is Labour.
    What unites those wanting change is not party but profession. Those webbies in Conservative HQ and Tories elsewhere need to link up with the rest of us to raise our collective status.
    From the reaction to my post, this is going to happen.

  • Robin Smith

    year-long trial of Birmingham City Council has come to an end recently with the
    council defending its trial on desktop Linux. The trial was carried out with
    the government-backed Open
    Source Academy
    and planned to install Linux on 330 desktops in the council’s libraries
    service, split between staff PCs and public access terminals, in an effort to
    build up practical experience that could have been drawn on by other
    public-sector bodies.

  • s ausin

    without prejudice
    Without doubt this website is the biggest waste of my money I have encountered in a long while. An on line petition should be set up for the sacking of the people in the council involved in this abomination. Yet again it’s the council thinking it’s their money and not us taxpayers who contribute to this council. The 2.8 million would have helped a lot of more worthwhile causes in the city. This is paramount to daylight robbery which the council seems to get away with on a yearly basis.

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