UK Government Defends Use Of Second Life


“Fantasy world” innovation centre could save taxpayers money by reducing travel, according to the DWP

The UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has given more details about its use of 3D virtual reality technology – in response to accusations of wasting tax-payers money.

Earlier this week, Conservative MP Nick Hurd accused the government of living in a “fantasy world” after it emerged that the DWP and others were using Second Life to host an online innovations centre.

According to reports on the BBC, the site, which is closed to the public, cost £20,000 to set up and a further £12,000 a year to run.

However, responding to the criticism, the DWP released its own figures which claim the project has only cost the department £6000 and is projected to cost up to £20000 over time based on £3000 a quarter maintenance charges.

“We are currently exploring the potential of use Second Life and have active interest from a number of Government departments,” said a DWP spokesperson in a written statement. “Our new innovation centre in Second Life is a virtual area where both Government and private companies can showcase technological innovations, such as low carbon footprint technology.”

It is not clear at this time if other government departments are contributing to the project costs which could account for the differences between the figures quoted by the BBC and those from the DWP.

The DWP claims the innovation centre is currently only a pilot project and has been developed to support the activities of a real-life innovation centre. The department claims the site will actually save taxpayers money by allowing staff to explore new technologies online without having to visit other departments or companies in person.

“We believe it could help make sharing technology more efficient and save taxpayers money as meetings, events and shows can be held online at a fraction of the cost and resources.”

But opposition MP Hurd, according to BBC reports, said that spending money on expensive web sites didn’t make sense in the current economic climate. “I am as excited by technology as anyone, I just don’t necessarily think, in these times, that taxpayers’ money, in terms of government expenditure, should be spent on things like this. It looks like an indulgence.”

Greater use of online meeting technologies from high-end telepresence systems to simple instant messaging has been pushed as a way for government and the private sector to cut costs and green house gas emissions associated with physical transport. However this has to be balanced agains the environmental impact and costs of the IT systems needed to support virtual environments.

Second Life is a 3D virtual environment developed by US company Linden Labs in 2003.