Friday 25 June 2010

Government hits delete on websites

As part of its economy drive the government is to review all of its 820 websites, and most look destined to be culled.

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, has pledged to scrap hundreds of unnecessary and expensive government websites and slash the cost of the remaining sites to save millions of pounds, saying there would be no more "vanity" sites.

The previous government claims to have already culled over one thousand such sites, but was seemingly unable to prevent new ones from springing up. Now all government funded websites will be subject to a review looking at cost, usage and whether they could share resources better. Up to three quarters of government sites could be shut, with the remainder forced to cut their cloth and costs by 50%.

"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," said Maude.

A review, to report by the Spending Review in September, will aim to shut down up to 75% of existing sites and then look at getting the remaining sites to cut their costs by up to 50% and move onto common infrastructures.

A Central Office for Information (COI) report - the first of its kind - in to the costs, quality and usage stats of government websites, finds that £94m has been spent on the construction, set up and running costs of just 46 websites and £32m on staff costs for those sites in 2009-10.

The analysis identifies the most expensive websites as:

* uktradeinvest.gov.uk which costs £11.78 per visit; and
* businesslink.gov.uk which costs £2.15 per visit.

Francis Maude said there was anecdotal evidence that money was wasted because of competition between departments.

Examples he cites 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.

Said Maude, "This government is completely committed to getting the government web back under control. The days of vanity sites are over."

The minister said he would be working with digital champion, Martha Lane Fox, on how the government can further transform government websites as part of its drive to put key public services online and to increase the number of people who are able to use the internet.

"She will also look at sharing resources and facilities and using low-cost open source products to reduce running costs," said Maude.

Labour MP, Tom Watson, twittered this morning that the "report does not list the web sites earmarked for closure by September" adding, "I think I managed to get 1000+ gov web sites shut so good luck to Francis Maude with this!"

The report, 'Government on the Internet' is at www.coi.gov.uk/websitemetrics2009-10