Costs of government websites

Dafydd Vaughan on 28 June 2010

On Friday, the Government announced that it is intending to close up to 75% of the 820 public sector websites it has identified. The announcement coincided with a report from the Central Office of Information (COI) outlining statistics for central government websites. These figures show that 47 websites have cost taxpayers over £127 million in the last financial year.

If you dig a little deeper into the figures you can see that central government has spent £14m on Strategy & Planning, £15.8m on Design & Build, £23.8m on Hosting & Infrastructure and £9.7m on Testing (these are categories that COI requires under their TG128 standard). Despite their efforts (gathering this kind of data is by no means easy) I have concerns about the quality. For example:

  • The Ministry of Defence spent £418,000 on Design & Build: however, that includes figures for their internal intranet whereas the others do not appear to include intranet costs
  • A comment against the Forestry Commission figures numbers states “This is as close as I can make it. Won’t be too far out.”
  • The Office of Fair Trading hosting costs cover both their website and internal intranet
  • Numerous departments (Ministry of Justice, Audit Commission, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, GCHQ, Crown Prosecution Service and the Statistics Authority) show no costs for website hosting

Quite clearly there is a discrepancy in the ways each department has calculated their figures. There could be quite legitimate reasons for this, for example, hosting could be part of a much bigger IT contract, making it difficult to split out website costs. However it does raise questions as to the accuracy of the dataset as a whole.

Interestingly, the Crown Prosecution Service does not appear to have provided any costs (all fields are marked as zero); they have however answered an FOI request recently, revealing they paid nearly £122k last year.

That said the spending figure is horrifying. The government is spending way too much on websites. I can’t quite figure out how spending £35 million on BusinessLink is justified, or £10.4 million on Directgov for that matter, particularly when these sites were supposed to reduce the cost of public sector websites.

I would also be interested to see a breakdown of where all of this money is spent. I wonder how much of it goes to the big public sector outsourcing companies rather than SME web development agencies.

I agree that the costs need to be brought down, and some of that needs to be through closing websites and rationalising hosting infrastructures. However I think that there needs to be a proper look at why the costs for producing websites are so high – value for money is just not being achieved in a lot of these cases.

Simon Dickson from Puffbox has written more about these figures on his blog, as has Harry Metcalfe from the Dextrous Web.

Any views stated here are my own and not those of my employer unless otherwise stated.