Government Pledges End To Public ‘Vanity’ Sites

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The Government will axe three quarters of its websites as part of a cost cutting review by the Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office has revealed that it will 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 last week 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.”

Maude has already opened a consultation on the government’s open data plans, and invited opinion on the principles for implementing the government’s transparency commitments across the public sector, as one of its first agreed priorities.

Labour’s Website Cull

Back in January the Labour government announced it would closed more than half of its websites. The Labour Government admitted at the time that it had closed 907 of its 1,700 websites, following the recommendations of the Varney report back in 2006.

This came after the shocking cost of Labour’s botched IT projects during its period in power was exposed in an investigation by the Independent newspaper.

That investigation found that British taxpayers had been left with a bill of more than £26 billion for computer systems that either suffered severe delays or ran over budget, or that were cancelled altogether.

More Cuts On The Way

However, the new Government has found that despite this previous culling of websites, there were still 820 websites as of March 2010, and has identified three quarters of them that could be in line for the chop.

As part of the new Government’s efficiency drive in order to cut the UK’s record deficit, all of the existing 820 government funded websites will be “subject to a review looking at cost, usage and whether they could share resources better.”

“No new websites will be permitted except for those that pass through a stringent exceptions process for special cases, and are cleared by the Efficiency board which is co-chaired by Francis Maude and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander,” said the Cabinet Office

It expects that the website review, which will report by the Spending Review in September, will aim to shut down up to 75 percent of existing sites and then look at getting the remaining sites to cuts their costs by up to 50 percent and move onto common infrastructures.

‘Vanity’ Sites To End

This comes after a new report by the Central Office for Information (COI) found that across government £94 million has been spent on the construction and set up and running costs of just 46 websites and £32 million on staff costs for those sites in 2009-10.

It said that the most expensive Government websites were the uktradeinvest.gov.uk which costs £11.78 per visit; and businesslink.gov.uk which costs £2.15 per visit.

“In addition, we have anecdotal evidence of where money has been wasted because of competition between departments,” said the Cabinet Office. “Examples include Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Energy Saving Trust (EST) bidding against each other for Google search terms; and some quango websites competing with central government ones, for example, the Potato Marketing Board’s lovechips.co.uk competing against the Department of Health’s Change4Life campaign on healthy lifestyle.”

“This Government is completely committed to getting the government web back under control. The days of “vanity” sites are over,” said Francis Maude. “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.”

“Going forward I will be working with internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, our new Digital Champion, on how we further transform government websites as part of our drive to put key public services online and to increase the number of people who are able to use the Internet,” he added. “She will also look at sharing resources and facilities and using low-cost open source products to reduce running costs.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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