Government iPhone App Spending Scrutinised

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The government has been criticised for spending up to £40,000 on iPhone applications – including one for job seekers

The government has spent tens of thousands of pounds on developing applications for the Apple iPhone, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Despite the considerable pressure to cut back public sector spending to tackle the deficit, a number of costly iPhone apps have been developed or proposed recently, according to the BBC.

The most expensive app uncovered by the request was proposed for the DVLA and would have cost around 40,000 to develop. The app is currently “on hold” according to a government spokesperson but according to the BBC report, it is not clear how much money has already been committed to the app.

Weed Out Websites

The scrutiny on government IT spend follows a commitment late last month by The Cabinet Office to weed out three quarters of the Government’s websites as part of the fiscal belt tightening being undertaken by the new coalition government.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, pledged that the Government will  “scrap hundreds of unnecessary and expensive government websites and slash the cost of the remaining sites to save millions of pounds.”

One iPhone app estimated to have cost around £32,000 was developed for  the Jobcentre – but the BBC pointed out that few job-seekers would make use of the app, given the costs associated with owning an iPhone and the associated operator costs.

“It seems many Government bodies have given in to the temptation to spend money on fashionable gimmicks at a time when they are meant to be cutting back on self-indulgent wastes of money”, Mark Wallace, campaign director for the Tax Payers’ Alliance, told the BBC.

Despite the development of a number of iPhone apps, the government said that it has put future projects on hold for the time being as part of a wider freeze on marketing and advertising spend.

“Future spend on iPhone development will be subject to strict controls: only essential activity, approved by the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be allowed,” a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said.

Highways Agency

But despite concerns about spending on iPhone apps, some government departments have claimed that apps have been popular with the public. An iPhone application developed by the Highways Agency in February was downloaded more than 50,000 times by March according to the government department which monitors congestion on England’s roads.

The free app was the fourth most downloaded free application on Apple’s App Store, according to the Highways Agency. The application provides users with their current location using GPS. The results are shown as a list of incidents and planned roadworks in the area, as well as traffic updates. The system even tunes into the Highway Agency’s radio station to provide traffic updates.

And some iPhone developers are jumping to the defences of public service apps – which are becoming a global market.

“An app is not by any means the frippery that some might assume it to be,” said a statement form Belfast-based Lagan Technologies, which has supplied an iPhone application to the US city of Boston. The “Citizen Connect” app allows residents to spot problems, take photos and submit GPS-tagged requests to City Hall, according to a report in the Boston Globe

“The request goes straight to the local government official responsible for fixing the problem,” said a Langan spokesman. “No fewer than one in five requests to City Hall are now channelled via the app.”

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