In a release from the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude last week vowed to dispose of hundreds of needless and costly government websites. This is part of the government’s drive to cut £6.2 billion of wasteful spending and reduce the deficit. It is hoped that £95 million can be saved through cuts in IT spending to be reinvested into further education and social housing.
The figures are staggering. 46 websites cost £94.5 million of government money to build, with staffing costs of £33.5 million. £22.7 million was spent on design and built costs, £23.8 million on hosting and infrastructure, and £24.1 million on content provision. In March 2010, the government reported running 794 websites, with the Coalition government identifying 26 more. As part of the Spending Review in September 75% of the websites will close with a target of 50% spending cuts for the remainder.
The review will look at all 820 government websites to determine how they could share resources better, savings costs. The creation of new websites will be restricted to those which successfully pass a stringent exceptions process, and are cleared by the Efficiency Board chaired by Francis Maude and Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. Hopefully better value for money will be achieved in the procurement stage. Maude stated:
“This Government is completely committed to getting the government web back under control. The days of “vanity” sites are over. It is not good enough to have websites which do not deliver the high quality services which people expect and deserve. That is why we will take tough action to get rid of those which are not up to the job and do not offer good value for money and introduce strict guidelines for those that remain.”
The problem here seems to be that public sector bodies rarely get it right when it comes to IT jobs and consultancy work. They tend to favour the higher priced, more trusted IT firms that they have used for years, without properly tendering contracts which can save money. Government website businesslink.gov.uk spent £35 million in total with only an eighth place return for total visits from 2009-2010 behind departments that spent significantly lower amounts. Businesslink.gov.uk was the second most expensive website per visit with £2.15 spent for every hit, to uktradeinvest.gov.uk’s £11.78 per visit.
Furthermore, money was wasted because of competition between departments with the DECC and Energy Saving Trust bidding against each other for Google search terms. Some quango websites also competed with other parts of central government. In the case of the Potato marketing Board’s lovechips.co.uk, it competed against the Department of Health’s Change4Life campaign on healthy lifestyle. Tit-for-tat battling between government departments does not serve taxpayers’ interest, especially when money is being poured down the drain in wasted schemes. So while it may be easy for the coalition to talk the talk, changing procurement practices and stopping many public bodies’ culture of self-promotion will be more difficult than it may look at first glance.
Considering all of this, it may not be too much of a surprise to learn that four government departments spent almost £6 million to guarantee that their websites appeared on search engine results pages. The Department for Communities and Local Government spent over £750,000 endorsing campaign websites including those for Home Information Packs, Eco Towns and Energy Performance Certificates. In addition the Department of Energy and Climate Change spent more than £309,000, primarily on the ‘Act on CO2’ campaign. The Department of Health was the worst offender, racking up a bill of £4.4 million in ‘paid search fees.’
The NHS budget has been ring fenced with expenditure set to rise to £122 billion from 2010-2011, and this shows where some of the money goes. The Public Accounts Committee concluded that it was impossible to assess whether websites were economical as over 25% of government websites did not know the costs of their websites and there was no system of measuring costs in place.
This self-promotion of government departments has left the taxpayer very short changed. With so much talk of efficiency, the government have to ensure that every penny is carefully spent.