iPhone apps cost government thousands

Several projects now on hold include one at the DVLA, which has spent money developing an iPhone app that allows drivers to perform actions such as paying road tax

The development of an iPhone application has cost the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency tens of thousands of pounds, a BBC Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The app, which would have enabled drivers to perform actions such as renewing their tax disc, has cost £40,000 to create so far, a Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) spokesperson said on Tuesday. Development has been put on hold, the spokesperson added.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for motorists to renew their car tax, tell us about a change of address or update their driving licence, meaning they stay safe and legal to drive," the DVLA said in a statement. "This would also bring benefits for DVLA: for example, by reducing the number of reminders that need to be sent out. We considered how an iApp [iPhone application] could help with this, but no final decisions have been taken."

The Freedom of Information (FoI) request uncovered a range of iPhone app projects at government departments, including a jobseeker tool and a travel advice tool from the Foreign Office, according to BBC News. The departments spent between £10,000 and £40,000 on these projects. BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said in a blog post on Tuesday that at least six government apps were in development.

Belfast-based software developer Lagan Technologies, which has developed iPhone apps for the US and UK markets, said that the cost of such apps should be weighed against their usefulness in helping citizens to interact with government agencies.

"With some apps, the cost doesn't represent good value for money, but there are apps that really work," said the company's chief executive Des Speed. "Some apps, particularly those dealing with service requirements, can also encourage people to get involved and engage with government."

The development of all government iPhone apps was put on hold shortly after the coalition government was formed, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said. A marketing freeze began in late May, following the formation of the government Efficiency and Reform Group, said the spokesperson.

"The government recently announced a freeze on all marketing and advertising spend for this year and this includes iPhone applications," the Cabinet Office said. "While the government wants to ensure that information and services are available in the most efficient and convenient forms, 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."

The BBC, which is mainly supported by the licence fee, halted the development of some of its own iPhone apps in April. Plans to provide BBC News and Sports apps were put on hold while the BBC Trust examined the business case for them, the broadcaster reported at the time.

A BBC spokesperson on Tuesday declined to disclose how much the corporation had spent working on the postponed apps.